Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Job Termination Nightmare of the Week

ScaredmnkCourtesy of Drew Curtis' and the Boston (and here, too) comes the story of Michael Fiola, an investigator for the Massachussetts Department of Industrial Accidents. Fiola was fired for having child pornography on his work computer, and the state filed criminal charges against him.

Fiola’s troubles began in November 2006 when, seven years into a job probing workers’ compensation fraud, DIA gave him a replacement laptop for one that was stolen.

Months later, DIA information technology officials noted that the data usage on Fiola’s Verizon wireless bill was 4 times greater than his colleagues’. After discovering the child porn, Commissioner Paul Buckley fired him on March 14, 2007.

DIA turned the matter over to state police who, after confirming “an overwhelming amount of images of prepubescent children engaged in pornographic poses” were stored on the laptop, persuaded Boston Municipal Court to issue a criminal complaint against Fiola in August 2007.

It turns out, as his defense investigator discovered, and prosecution experts confirmed, the "the laptop was running corrupted virus-protection software, and Fiola was hit by spammers and crackers bombarding its memory with images of incest and pre-teen porn not visible to the naked eye." So, the state employer was responsible for the situation, since it was the one that installed the corrupted software in the first place. Charges were dropped, and Fiola's case was expunged, but there has been no suggestion that the state will provide some remedy for his termination. A DIA spokesperson said only, "We stand by our decision."


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I hope you can help me. I haven't been getting results from my story. This happened to me, and was covered up. I can provide court transcripts and eyewitness testimony.

What Good Is a Union For?

Union politics and the deals made out of view of the public killed my career and my retirement pension.


Jim Stenger

I was a member of the Amalgamated 757 union in good standing for many years. I was a Trimet employee who had earned several performance and driver safety awards. I was on the verge of retirement. But then the world came crashing down on me over false allegations, unsubstantiated half-truths, and a local media that was thirsty for a hot story. The result? I lost my job. I lost my pension. And I lost my career.

What did the 757 do to help me? Nothing. Here’s my story.

Back in 2004, I was having dinner with a friend at Kauai Island Grill in Portland. I had noticed that the restaurant’s staff was acting rude. Not wanting to cause a stir, we left the restaurant peaceably. But I really I wondered what we had done to deserve such bad treatment. I turned around and attempted to go back inside to find out what the problem was.

When I got to the door, it was either stuck or locked and I couldn’t open it with my hand. I tried once more with my shoulder and foot and still couldn’t get it open. I turned around to leave and then all of a sudden the door was opened and one of the restaurant employees jumped me from behind. My friend watched the whole crazy incident. The guy suckered punched me. After that I got in my car and we left. But, within a couple of hours, a policeman knocked on the door of my apartment and arrested me for intimidation. This was unbelievable. I was the one who was assaulted!

As I stated under sworn testimony in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon—a case where the intimidation charge against me was dropped—I testified that, “The incident didn’t happen the way my accusers said it happened. The guy assaulted me because I went to make a complaint about rude treatment that we, my friend and I, encountered at this restaurant, which ensued that the guy came out charging at me, assaulting me, and he hit and he punched me in the left ear. I did not retaliate, other than exchange words, but I did not make a racial comment.”

The thought that I made a racial comment is unbelievable. I lived in Hawaii for 20 years and never even used a racial word towards anyone. My grandchildren are of Hawaiian descent. Even my girlfriend is Micronesian.

But this is only the beginning of my story. The arresting police officer wouldn’t listen to my side of the story. Then a week after the incident, a Channel 6 story was broadcasted and alleged that I made racial comments at the restaurant. A complete and total lie.

I was never contacted by a reporter for the Channel 6 story or any subsequent stories. Talk about the irresponsible media! They just threw a story out there to stir up attention to boost their ratings, I guess. My bad luck didn’t stop there. I got the double whammy of bad press. Maxine Berstein, a writer with The Oregonian, wrote an article about me about a year after the incident, stating that I was seen around Portland, making threats, and that I was seen back at the restaurant. I wasn’t even in the U.S. when she wrote the story; I was on an overseas visit in Asia.

It should be no surprise that once my employer, Trimet, got wind of this incident, I would be called to defend myself. During the investigation, the Trimet station manager never went to the restaurant to take a statement from my accuser. I believe Trimet wanted to fire me and it used the Union to help get rid of me. During a union arbitration hearing, my witness wanted to testify that he never saw the black man that allegedly he heard me make a racial comment. Then, the worst possible thing happened that could have cleared up this terrible affair: the Union would not let my witness testify. In his own words, my witness, Ken West said: “I was not allowed to tell what I witnessed."

I was given a choice: either resign or file a grievance. I chose the latter. But I knew something was wrong when my shop steward never gave me a heads up when the meetings for the grievance process were coming up. It’s pretty obvious to me now: The executive board members of the union didn’t want to hear any testimony in my defense. Instead of supporting me and helping me solve this problem, the union sided with Trimet and swept the whole matter under the rug. I have requested the transcripts of the union arbitration meeting but they have refused my request.

In the end, I was charged with a misdemeanor, which was thrown out. In the pretrial hearing, I was accused of saying a racial slur. The prosecutor told her side of the story based upon my accuser, who never came to the trial, and I told mine. The judge dropped the charge because there were contradictions in what was actually said on the night of the incident.

This was a “He Said She Said” incident that could not stand up in court.

I paid my union dues for years so the union would come to bat for me when I needed them. But the moral of the story is pretty clear: Union politics and the deals made out of view of the public killed my career and my retirement pension.

Posted by: James Lee Stenger | Nov 10, 2008 2:32:05 PM

I am very sorry to read this story. Perhaps you you be well servered by an attorney whom is looking out for you. I am wondering how this became a work issue. it appears that you had been off the clock. Did you still have your work clothes on or something?

Posted by: Y | Jan 9, 2009 5:10:03 PM

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