Over the weekend, Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant reported on the "complicated" ethics case of former UConn Health Center medical technologist Priscilla Dickman. At issue: Whether state ethics laws were violated by "using state equipment, resources and time in furtherance of her private jewelry and travel consulting businesses."
A public hearing over the "ethics" side of her case starts Friday, according to the Courant:
A reading of the voluminous case file at the Office of State Ethics reveals that it’s not just a simple question of whether Dickman’s state e-mail records contained personal messages relating to jewelry purchases (which they did), but a battle involving broader issues, such as Dickman’s claim that many others did the same things that she’s now facing charges over.
She has a pending federal lawsuit against UConn Health Center officials, claiming they harassed and failed to accommodate her over physical disabilities, including a back injury and fibromyalgia. She also has named the ethics agency’s enforcement chief and investigator as defendants, saying they are selectively prosecuting her on the non-criminal ethics charges.
"I utilized my computer for non-lab use less than any part-time, full-time employee, as well as supervisor employees," Dickman said in a sworn deposition conducted in May by ethics officials.
The article goes on to provide additional details about the ethics case as well as an unrelated arrest of the employee on forgery charges. (She is awaiting trial on that aspect.)
But what the article doesn’t delve into is the federal lawsuit. What is that case about? According to the operative Complaint (download here): "Ms. Priscilla Dickman was retaliated against after she exercised her rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, she was discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act,was denied the equal protection of the law, and was subjected to the torts of malicious prosecution, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process and defamation."
The Health Center and the individual defendants have denied most of the factual allegations in the complaint and the legal issues as well, according to an answer which was filed earlier this summer (download here).
For employers, this case is an example of how employment cases that may seem simple and straightforward at first can turn into costly and time-consuming proceedings. No matter how it turns out, each side will have devoted a substantial amount of resources into this case.
Thus, before employers make a decision on whether to terminate an employee – always consider the costs that such a decision may have on your business down the road.