Labor & Employment

Lawyers ask feds to probe claims Maine governor pressured hearing officers to rule for employers

A group of employment lawyers is seeking a federal investigation of the governor of Maine, citing news reports that he and other officials have pressured hearing officers to rule for the state in administrative cases about unemployment compensation benefits.

In a Monday letter (PDF), the local chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association calls for “an immediate and thorough investigation,” according to the Sun Journal.

An earlier Sun Journal article, which relied on information from unidentified sources, said Gov. Paul LePage had summoned over a dozen state Department of Labor employees to a mandatory March 21 lunch meeting at which he scolded eight hearing officers and their supervisors for deciding too many unemployment cases in favor of workers. The session, which lasted an hour and a half, was also attended by the labor department’s commissioner and the chairwoman of the Unemployment Insurance Commission.

“[T]he reported actions of the Governor and his political appointees clearly the fundamental requirements of federal law regarding the payment of unemployment compensation benefits,” continues the letter by the president of the Maine chapter, David G. Webbert.

The letter was sent to the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Labor and the Office of Unemployment Insurance Employment and Training Administration.

The newspaper apparently was unable to obtain a comment from LePage about the Webbert’s letter, but says he has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, through a spokesman, and called the allegations “outrageous.”

Webbert called LePage’s alleged conduct “the most serious threat to judicial independence in Maine I’ve seen” in his 22-year tenure. “For the executive branch to step into the world of specific cases, that’s a fundamental violation of our whole idea of separations of power.”

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