OPWDD asks judge to overturn retaliation verdict

Agency employees angered by state

A whistleblower in the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities is back under investigation by the agency as its lawyers also seek to overturn the jury’s verdict in a retaliation lawsuit he won in November.

Jeffery Monsour, an OPWDD direct-care worker for 19 years, said he initially reported instances of troubling practices, including falsified fire drills, sexual abuse and a lack of discipline for abusive employees to his supervisors in the late 2000s, and after seeing no changes made, turned his knowledge over to the press in 2011.

After bringing these complaints to light, Monsour said he faced unsubstantiated charges of psychological abuse when he reported a group home resident had inappropriately fondled a dog. Monsour was cleared of the charges in October. The allegation was settled in arbitration, and though it was supposed to be removed from his file within 18 months, it remained even after he submitted a letter with no admission of guilt.

He said he was then told to start signing into work at a kiosk near a garage, holding used diapers from the group home.

OPWDD asserts that there was not enough evidence to support the jury’s decision, saying they reached their decision through “sheer surmise and conjecture,” according to a memo from Assistant Attorney General Helena Lynch to U.S. Northern District Court Judge Brenda Sannes.

Documents included with the Rule 50 motion to overturn the ruling challenge Monsour’s allegation that he was denied promotion several times as a result of talking with the press.

Michael Carey, an advocate for people with developmental disabilities, said he asked the state to move Monsour from his “hostile” work environment to a position where he can enact some of the changes he suggested.

“I don’t know anybody else in the state system that cares for and has fought for the civil rights and protections of the disabled from within as much as him,” Carey said.

After meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on May 7, 2012, Carey said Cuomo directed the former deputy secretary of health, James Introne, to move Monsour, and it never happened — even after Carey’s continuous requests. Carey said he keeps a written and printed log of all correspondence he sends and receives, attaching documents to source his information and he has never received a response.

The core of the case lies with the question of if Monsour, as a private citizen, had the right to reveal troubling things he saw at his job to the press. The jury decided that his speech was protected by federal laws concerning the disabled and their rights.

The allegations Monsour brought to the press included complaints that the state was not testing for radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer, at OPWDD facilities. This evidence was blocked from inclusion in the trial, Monsour said. He said evidence that the agency brought a level two sex offender to a children’s Halloween party was also blocked from the trial.

“A couple hundred or more of our exhibits were not allowed in, and they still lost,” Monsour said.

Monsour was awarded $1 in damages and continued to work at OPWDD, splitting time between the Stony Creek facility and Fort Edward day habilitation center.

Now, he is back under investigation for two separate incidents, he said, but has not been told what he is being investigated for. He says this is more retaliation from the state for revealing flaws in the agency.

Denise Decarlo, the deputy director of communications for OPWDD, said the agency cannot comment on ongoing litigation.