LEWISTON, Maine — Last week, on the same day the Sun Journal reported allegations of political pressure being exerted on hearings officers at the Maine Bureau of Unemployment, the first claim to reopen a 2012 case was filed with the state.
State Rep. Henry John Bear, who represents the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, filed a request with Linda Rogers-Tomer, chief administrative unemployment hearing officer at the Department of Labor on April 11, asking for reconsideration of his unemployment insurance claim from October 2012.
Bear made the written request believing, based on the reported allegations, that he “did not receive a fair and unbiased hearing” of his claim. He asked that his case be reopened, he said.
In the past week, a number of labor lawyers have suggested that the allegations against the governor would lead to requests for reconsideration of claims from people who went through the unemployment hearing process.
According to David Webbert, president of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association, “people have a legitimate basis to question the fairness of the process.”
According to Bear’s request for reconsideration of his claim for benefits, he and three members of his family had been employed at The Getchell Agency in Bangor, a private agency that provides around-the-clock residential and support services for the disabled.
In 2012, the four employees reported what they perceived to be hostile actions of fellow employees against homebound clients to agency supervisors and to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. And, he claims, they were each subsequently fired.
Each applied for unemployment benefits and was denied, but all appealed. And, according to Bear, his relatives’ claims were upheld but his was not, “although the facts of my case were nearly identical.”
In seeking a review of his case, he claims that several witnesses who were available to corroborate his claims of retaliation that led to his dismissal were not permitted to present their evidence, and his claim was denied.
“The process seemed rigged then,” he said Wednesday, “and, now, it seems I was correct.”
In his request for reconsideration of his claim, Bear told Rogers-Tomer that he believed there was merit to his request, asking for his claim be heard “on a proper weighing of all existing evidence and by hearing officers who are not biased by their own or the governor’s influence.”
Bear repeated his request to Rogers-Tomer by email three times on Saturday morning, given what he called “the probable bias that was exacted against me in your unemployment claim appeals system.”
Bear is a registered Republican who attended the signing of the bill that provided 16 elver fishing licenses to the Maliseets in the governor’s office on March 21.
“I voted for Gov. LePage,” Bear said, but he feels the hearing officers and others involved in the unemployment claims process through the Department of Labor and then the Unemployment Insurance Commission were strongly biased against him.
The Labor Department had acknowledged receipt of his request, but had taken no further action to date.
Bear, who said he has not been employed since his dismissal at Getchell, is serving his first term in the Legislature.