The head of Caribou's caribou statue appears is seen Nov. 23, 2018, in front of City Hall. Credit: Christopher Bouchard | Aroostook Republican & News

CARIBOU, Maine — The city has agreed to pay former employee Kenneth Lloyd $45,000, including $30,000 in back wages, to revise its whistleblower policies and to provide training to city employees on worker rights under the Maine Whistleblower Act as part of a conciliation agreement with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The commission will end its investigation and dismiss Lloyd’s complaint once it determines the city has met the terms of the agreement. The city’s compliance will not be considered an admission of violating the Maine Human Rights Act as part of the agreement.

The city and Lloyd accepted the agreement on Aug. 26 after the commission voted unanimously in June to find reasonable grounds that the city discriminated against Lloyd in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act. The commission voted against the recommendation of its chief investigator, Alice Neal, that there were not reasonable grounds.

The city employed Lloyd as a groomer operator in January 2014, and promoted him to director of Parks and Recreation in September 2015, according to Neal’s report.

Neal wrote that Lloyd said he had made three complaints to his supervisor, whose name has been redacted from all documents related to the case, between May 2017 and November 2017 regarding what he believed were violations of law. His first complaint was that his “supervisor hired his son, who did not possess a license, to operate [city] vehicles and equipment.”

The city said Lloyd’s supervisor spoke to the interim city manager prior to hiring his son to ensure that it would not cause any issues related to nepotism. The city approved the hire, saying the supervisor’s son would report directly to Lloyd, and that he would not drive city vehicles. His primary job would be “operating the mower, which requires no license.” Lloyd claimed the supervisor’s son was operating “a registered tractor on city roadways.”

His second complaint was that his supervisor told him to put “fictitious license plates on a trailer,” and his third complaint was that a “plow truck was being operated without a valid state inspection.”

The city said Lloyd was never told to put fictitious plates on a trailer, adding that “any conversation about doing this was done only in a joking manner,” according to the report.

The city said any additional complaints were not reported until after Lloyd was fired in January 2018 for “not maintaining a valid driver’s license.” The city also said it “took appropriate corrective action” in response to Lloyd’s original complaints.

The investigator concluded that Lloyd did not properly establish that his complaints were the cause of his discharge.

To reinforce this point, the report said that Lloyd was given a raise on Jan. 5, 2018, just 12 days before he was fired for not maintaining a valid driver’s license. The city wrote that Lloyd’s supervisor had “no reason to believe that [Lloyd] wouldn’t renew his license promptly.” He was reminded twice more, then fired on Jan. 17, 2018, for not renewing his license.

Lloyd said he was “made to feel like [renewing his license] wasn’t an issue” in his work environment, denied that he was reminded on multiple occasions and said there was “never a direct or clear statement” about license renewal in any of the conversations with his supervisor. He also wrote that “the job description does not state anything about having to have a license.”

On Feb. 2, less than a month after Lloyd was fired, the city told him that while it was taking his concerns about illegal activity in the department very seriously, it was going to uphold his termination as he was with the department for roughly two months without a valid driver’s license.

The commission investigator wrote that there were no reasonable grounds to believe that the city retaliated against Lloyd for engaging in Whistleblower Protection Act-protected activity since his complaints were made after he was fired. The investigator also suggested that the complaint should be dismissed.

In June, Commissioner Ted Helberg moved to find no reasonable grounds for retaliation, but commissioners Arnold Clark and Frederick Oettinger were opposed. All three commissioners unanimously voted to find reasonable grounds for retaliation.

Amy Sneirson, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission, said it is “not uncommon” for commissioners to “make a finding that is at odds with what an investigator recommends in a case.”

“The commissioners take their responsibilities very seriously,” Sneirson said, “and ask a lot of detailed questions about the cases to the parties, attorneys and investigators during hearings. I think, now more than ever, the commissioners are willing to respectfully acknowledge an investigator’s diligence and work, but still come to a different conclusion than the investigator did in a case.”

In late August, Lloyd and the city accepted the conciliation agreement.

Caribou City Council, during a Nov. 12 meeting, unanimously approved an ordinance amending whistleblower protections, which City Manager Dennis Marker later confirmed was related to the conciliation agreement. The ordinance amendment includes providing “additional language in its personnel policies about employee’s rights under the Maine Whistleblower Act,” adding that the language “replicates that generally provided by the MHRC to all employers within the state.”

Marker said the city “will provide training on this subject for all of its employees later this month.”