An arbitrator has ordered the State of Maine to reinstate, with back pay, a Maine Bureau of Insurance worker whom it fired in 2010 for marrying an insurance company manager two years earlier.
"Most of the people I've shared my story with look at me and say, 'Okay, what did you really get fired for?' No one can believe I got fired just because of my marriage, but it's true," Michael Nadeau said. "It's right there in my letter of termination."
Anne Head, commissioner of the Maine Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, wrote to Nadeau in June 2010:
"Your marriage to an insurance company manager represents a conflict of interest. As a result of this determination, your employment with the Bureau of Insurance will cease."
Maine law requires employees to disclose any conflicts of interest involving a spouse, and to abstain from performing any work that would create such a conflict. And Nadeau had complied with the law, making multiple disclosures about his relationship years before his dismissal.
He disclosed it initially in 2005 before he and the insurance company manager started dating, in 2006 when they moved in together, in 2008 when they got married, and twice in 2010 when a supervisor ordered him to perform work that he knew would pose a conflict of interest. Nadeau even asked for a written opinion on the matter...which the state responded to by firing him.
Nadeau, a 13-year employee, had risen to the rank of examiner in charge at the time of his dismissal. He had an excellent work record, and promoted steadily to the position of examiner in charge. He and his union, the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, fought his dismissal as lacking any basis in Maine law and violating his contractual rights. And they won.
"None of the statutory provisions introduced in the record clearly compelled Nadeau's termination," arbitrator Joseph M. Daly wrote in a decision dated Jan. 26, 2012. "Nor is there any evidence that the Bureau considered any alternatives to termination in assignment of duties to Nadeau, which from a legal and operational perspective would have allowed for his continued employment. In simpler terms, there is no record evidence that the State made sufficient efforts to make sure it was right."
"Michael Nadeau complied with the relevant conflict of interest laws and did the right thing every step of the way, yet the state fired him based on shoddy legal research by an assistant attorney general who applied the wrong statute," said Tim Belcher, general counsel for the Maine State Employees Association. "Maine law simply does not dictate who employees can marry. Employees, as well as elected and appointed officials, all are free to marry and socialize with whomever they choose, so long as they disclose any conflict and abstain from actions that directly affect their family."
Michael Nadeau said: "I am looking forward to putting this all behind me and getting on with my life."