AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will pay a former employee $142,500 as settlement of a federal whistleblower lawsuit.
Sharon Leahy-Lind, once a division director for the Maine Center for Disease Control, sued DHHS and her bosses at the CDC after she said she was harassed and retaliated against for refusing to shred public documents.
The two sides recently agreed to settle, and DHHS released the settlement agreement Friday.
As part of the agreement, co-plaintiff Katie Woodbury, a CDC office manager, will be paid $22,500 by the state. The state also will pay their attorney, Cynthia Dill, $85,000 to cover legal bills.
As part of the settlement, DHHS, CDC Director Sheila Pinette, Deputy Director Christine Zukas and Office of Minority Health and Health Equity Director Lisa Sockabasin admit no wrongdoing.
Also as part of the settlement, Leahy-Lind agreed not to seek another job with DHHS. She resigned from the CDC in July 2013, saying her bosses made it impossible for her to do her job.
The settlement includes a confidentiality agreement that prevents either side from discussing its contents. However, the agreement includes a clause allowing the settlement’s release as required by the Freedom of Access Act.
Tuesday’s settlement ends a nearly two-year saga between Leahy-Lind and the CDC.
In April 2013, Leahy-Lind filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission alleging, among other things, that her bosses ordered her to shred public documents related to funding the Healthy Maine Partnerships program. They wanted the documents destroyed, she said, to prevent the Sun Journal and the public from seeing them. When she refused, Leahy-Lind said, she was assaulted and harassed.
In October 2013, Leahy-Lind filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against Pinette and DHHS. She said Pinette and others within the department retaliated against her when she refused to destroy documents, publicly defamed her and violated her rights.
In March 2014, the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee spent six hours questioning Leahy-Lind, Pinette, Sockabasin, Zukas and others at the heart of a lengthy CDC document-shredding probe. CDC leaders admitted that employees were told to destroy public documents and that those documents showed scoring was changed at the end of a competitive grant process, sending public money to an organization that was favored by CDC leaders but that hadn’t originally scored high enough to receive the funding.
In September 2014, a judge allowed Woodbury to join Leahy-Lind’s suit as a plaintiff and added Zukas and Sockabasin as defendants. Woodbury said she also faced harassment and retaliation for speaking publicly about problems at the CDC.
The two sides agreed to settle last month.
The state has paid private lawyers to represent DHHS and the CDC officials named in the lawsuit because the Maine Attorney General’s Office withdrew as counsel in early 2014. A DHHS spokesman said Tuesday that the state paid those private lawyers more than $320,000 to handle the lawsuit and settlement.