Ousted worker cries foul play Attorney: Firing JFS worker is 'suspect,' symbolizes possible 'smear campaign'

The attorney representing a fired Huron County Department of Job and Family Services employee said the timing looks suspicious. Toledo attorney Marilyn Widman also believes the county is involved in a "smear campaign" against her client. Nichole "Nicki" Baker was fired Tuesday based on allegations she threatened an HCDJFS client, used profanity repeatedly with the same woman and accessed pornography using the agency computer, HCDJFS Interim Director Lowell Etzler said earlier. Baker, a screener since March 7, 2005, was hired as a clerical specialist Jan. 12, 2004.
Cary Ashby
Jul 25, 2010

 

The attorney representing a fired Huron County Department of Job and Family Services employee said the timing looks suspicious. Toledo attorney Marilyn Widman also believes the county is involved in a "smear campaign" against her client.

Nichole "Nicki" Baker was fired Tuesday based on allegations she threatened an HCDJFS client, used profanity repeatedly with the same woman and accessed pornography using the agency computer, HCDJFS Interim Director Lowell Etzler said earlier. Baker, a screener since March 7, 2005, was hired as a clerical specialist Jan. 12, 2004.

Agency screeners make initial contacts with a complainant, gather information from the person and then turn it over to a case worker.

Widman said "any investigation of the underlying facts will quickly show that the termination is not supported, that the county misused its equipment in setting Ms. Baker up with charges." The attorney explained that HCDJFS officials used printouts of pornography shown on a computer screen during Baker's disciplinary hearing.

The attorney, who wasn't at the meeting, stressed it's difficult to tell if the printouts came from Baker's computer or someone else's.

"Nicki absolutely, positively did not do what she is accused of doing with her computer," Widman said.

Huron County Sheriff's Major Greg Englund said Baker filed a complaint early Wednesday afternoon, accusing someone of tampering with her work computer. Englund had no further information because he hadn't seen the actual report as of this morning.

HCDJFS Assistant Director Bonnie Richards said the chief inspector's office of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services monitored Baker's computer from June 8 through 22. That's the same timeline for the allegations Etzler cited against Baker.

"The printouts came from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services," Richards said.

Widman, Baker's attorney, said her client's deposition in a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed against the county was canceled Monday, the day Baker was to be questioned by attorneys. That is one day before the agency fired her.

"I think the timing of the firing is suspect," Widman said.

In April, Baker filed the lawsuit. She has accused former HCDJFS Director Erich Dumbeck, the agency and county commissioners of passing her over for five promotions because Dumbeck reportedly was infatuated with her. Baker also accused Dumbeck of making "unwelcome physical contact" by reportedly touching her on the hips, shoulders and back and making an "unwelcome advance," all between January and 2004 and January of this year.

Baker and Dumbeck had a personal relationship starting in January 2004, when they were co-workers supervised by different administrators.

Richards said she didn't know why the deposition was canceled, adding: "I have not heard word one about it."

Widman, in an e-mail to the Reflector, said the county is using "the age-old tactic of discrediting an adversary" by firing Baker and three other HCDJFS workers.

"The timing of (Baker's) termination is clearly retaliatory and meant to force Ms. Baker into an economic position where she cannot afford to continue her case against the county," Widman continued. "Shame on them, and how foolish they are to think Ms. Baker will simply fall down in defeat."

Assistant program administrator Marla White, eligibility/referral supervisor Jon Kelley and public information officer Stacia Badovick were told Friday their jobs would be eliminated, effective Aug. 24. Richards has said the positions were cuts were staff cuts done to save about $173,000.

Kelley has decided to take another agency job as an eligibility specialist.

Widman called the three workers hard working, knowledgeable and "loyal to the purpose the agency."

"I think there's definitely an effort by the commissioners and the employees of the department to disempower the employees who are willing to stand up for themselves," the attorney said. "They want sheep and all these women are not sheep. That's why we are proud to represent them.

"The citizens of Huron County should be outraged that their tax money is being spent on this kind of effort," Widman said.

She further cited the Reflector online comments on the recent HCDJFS stories as more evidence of the county's "smear campaign." There were 90 responses to the story about Baker being fired as of this morning.

"I'm not worried about the stories themselves," Widman added.

The attorney said the comments symbolize the "further harm" HCDJFS is trying to inflict on the workers. Richards declined to comment, saying she was unsure of the context.

Comments

Common Folk (An...

Get married?? Is that the answer to assistance-free life?? I think not. Ever girl growing up wishes about her wedding day with the dress, flowers and family. I cant help that my fairytale wedding was cut short because I made the decision to take my wonderful soulmate to radiation and chemotherapy instead of asking him what flavor of cake to serve at our wedding. Im sorry instead of going to my college classes I had to find a funeral home and make arrangements. Im sorry that you think im pinchin your paycheck for $57.00 a month for foodstamps so I can feed my daughter. I think in most peoples minds the help that we receive is alot. Can you feed your family on $57.00 a MONTH?? I think in your mind most of the people receiving help are sitting on their butts doing nothing. I personally work full time 3rd shift and raise my daughter. Again I thank you for paying taxes so my daughter can eat and see a doctor. Just keep in mind I also pay taxes.

re:commenter to...

....I resent money being taken from me and used for purposes which only serve to encourage more non resposible behavior. " .....If your statement is true in principal, void of any pretext (which I doubt), you've got much bigger and vastly more important battles to fight than the 3-5 percent of all tax dollar expenditures on social welfare programs, the majority of which are dollars well spent.

Re:Common Folk ...

In a nutshell,yes. Get married before you have children.There are exceptions but for 99% of people yes this,as well as finishing high school will be the answer to an assistance free life. Could I feed my family on $57.00 a month? No,of course not. That's why I work.How much are you giving me to feed my family? Answer-$0.

your tax dollar...

How much are you giving me to feed my family? Answer-$0. The answer is not $0. But this thread is not about how more of our tax dollars are spent subsidizing farming than feeding children through federal subsistance programs. The topic at hand is slandering the character of HCDJFS employees. Now you and your H.S. diploma get on topic, or hit the road with Marla!

wow you ppl are...

As im reading over this... it seems like most of the worker can hide behind this site to put fellow co-workers/ past and present on blast!!! gossip-hounds, town drunks, and the list is endless... WOW!!

your tax dollar...

The answer is $0. And it is on topic because the HCDJFS is a total waste of tax money. We're arguing about 3 employees when the whole thing should be shut down. And who madw you hall monitor?

hall monitor (A...

And who made you hall monitor? Bonnie Richards, that's who. You got a problem with her delegation of authority? Piss her off, I dare you! By the way, your answer of $0 spent by my tax dollars to feed your family remains incorrect. Now get with the Reflector/HCDJFS Forum program and slander, or you'll be slandered! You've seen what we done to Marla, haven't you?

Buttercup (Anon...

Hey BITTERCUP...quite an imagination you've got there...can't even come up with a name on your own. And we know you're too much of a coward to use your REAL name.

Re Hall Monitor...

You obviously have me confused with someone. I do not suckle at the government teat and I don't know Bonnie Richards.I get $0 of your tax dollars to feed my family.I must have landed in the middle of an intra-agency catfight. You do sound bitter.

Hall Monitor (A...

I have you confused with no one. You do suckle, whether you know it or not, and unfortunately you most certainly did land in the middle of a catfight. I'm a slight bit bitter, and with a modicum of respect, asking you to waste no more of our 2 weeks worth of bandwidth with your irreverent moralizing toward common folks postings. We have important, task specific work to do here. We have limited time and resources. Help us, or move along. Thank you in advance, and have a nice day.

Re Hall Monitor...

Isn't irreverent moralizing an oxymoron? I most certainly do not suckle, and would judge by your snotty attitude you to be a government employee. I await your diktat on what is an acceptable use of bandwidth.

Re buttercup (A...

What is your real name?

Re buttercup (A...

Voodoo, what's yours?

the real butter...

Dolly Parton

ex-employee (An...

In law, defamation is the communication of a statement that makes a false claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may harm the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government or nation. Most jurisdictions allow legal actions, civil and/or criminal, to deter various kinds of defamation and retaliate against criticism. Again, I am sorry!

itssss meeee (A...

Go back to your beer and drugs, I would never take back what I said.

someone who car...

People you have gotten off track. This is about an office that has been in trouble for a long time. You have a Director who had an affair when he was not Director, mistake on his part but who am I to judge. You have a woman who had the affair with him, was she over looked for promotion, who knows. That will be determined by a court of law. You have 2 people who are out of work. Does it make a difference if they drink or don't drink. That office is crying out for new leadership and it can not come from within. There are to many hard feelings in the office amongst the staff and management. The commissioners need to look outside the agency for new blood, someone who does not have a history with the office. Then maybe then they can get back to the business of helping the fine people of Huron County. God Bless "

ex-employee (An...

"Defamation" is the general term used internationally, and is used in this article where it is not necessary to distinguish between "slander" and "libel". Libel and slander both require publication. The fundamental distinction between libel and slander lies solely in the form in which the defamatory matter is published. If the offending material is published in some fleeting form, as by spoken words or sounds, sign language, gestures and the like, then this is slander. If it is published in more durable form, for example in written words, film, compact disc (CD), DVD, internet blogging and the like, then it is considered libel.

ex emplyee (Ano...

this is getting boring, this person only knows how to copy and paste. Must be a HCDJFS worker.

Obviously... (A...

The words are too big for you...sound it out,or get 'oh powerful mommy' to help you.

ex employee (An...

Wow are we bitter because I know who my parents are?

ex employee/But...

Well I have to go to work, so I will see you when I have put in my 9 hours. You see I do not abuse the company equipment for personal use.

From The Mornin...

Quoted text for the Lorain Morning Journalof 1/19/07: The allegations of discrimination against Dumbeck were found to be unsubstantiated, according to a report given to the county commissioners.''Evidence did not support claim of adverse employment decisions, therefore, the allegations of employment discrimination due to harassment is not substantiated,'' according to Chapin's report. While Dumbeck has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the matter, whether he should be disciplined for the findings of ''unwarranted and unwise'' conduct in the report ''is up to the commissioners to decide,'' Kasper also said. County Commission President Ralph Fegley said commissioners would talk to Dumbeck as to whether any changes should be made.''The evidence does indicate that the alleged offender (Dumbeck) continues to contact complaining party (Baker) in a manner perceived by her as unneeded and undesired. Importantly, alleged offender is now in a management supervisory position, directly in the chain of command although not the direct supervisor of complaining party. Therefore, while not rising to the level of actionable harassment, it would appear that alleged offender's conduct does present an issue of concern and is unwarranted and unwise,'' stated Chapin's report. Dumbeck ''concurred that a personal relationship developed which he perceived as of mutual interest,'' stated the report. The two were ''coworkers but supervised by different administrators'' at the time, the report also stated. Baker claimed to have complained to her union officer about the relationship, but the officer ''did not support the assertion,'' stated the report. Two administrative employees confirmed to Chapin that Baker had complained about receiving phone calls and e-mails from Dumbeck, the report also stated.

Thank you! (Ano...

for getting back on the subject at hand! bravo!

From The Mornin...

Quoted from text of The Morning Journal 3/3/07: A Huron County Department of Job and Family Services employee is continuing to pursue a complaint against Erich Dumbeck, director and Job and Family Services, for employment discrimination. An investigation conducted by Lynn Chapin, the county's equal opportunity officer, determined Dumbeck did nothing wrong. However, Chapin wrote in the investigatory report that his conduct presented an issue ''of concern and is unwarranted and unwise.'' Baker's attorney, Marilyn Widman, sent a letter to the Huron County Prosecutor's office dated Feb. 23, saying the issue needs to be looked at again. ''We cannot believe the complaint was investigated in the manner it was and that our client's claims of employment discrimination were dismissed as unfounded.'' Widman said she continues to advise Baker that she has a ''textbook, prima facie claim of employment discrimination based on gender via sexual harassment. Widman noted nine points she disputes in Chapin's investigation, according to her letter.

''Ms. Chapin's interview notes contain an admission by Mr. Dumbeck that there was Ôsexual contact' between himself and Ms. Baker but nothing more specific. Ms. Chapin did not, apparently, request specific information about such contact, and we find this incredulous,'' Widman's letter stated.

''The summary suggests that Mr. Dumbeck's behavior is not offensive in part because he and Ms. Baker were Ôco-workers' when the personal relationship developed. Mr. Dumbeck became the director of DJFS in April 2004, and the inappropriate contact between him and Ms. Baker continued well past that time,'' stated Widman's letter.
''In finding no employment discrimination to have occurred, Ms. Chapin outrageously refers to Mr. Dumbeck as holding a "management supervisory position," but "not the direct supervisor of" Ms. Baker. Mr. Dumbeck is THE boss over all persons employed at DJFS -- he is the top of the supervisory chain! All decisions as to transfers and promotions are reviewed and approved by Mr. Dumbeck, so he could easily "hold back" an employee such as Ms. Baker who refused/refuses his unwelcome personal invitations and suggestions,'' stated Widman's letter. Baker claims to have asked for help from supervisors and county commissioners according to her complaint.

From The Mornin...

Quoted from text of The Morning Journal 3/3/07: Baker claims to have asked for help from supervisors and county commissioners according to her complaint. ''This is my third attempt to try and resolve an issue that has been going on for the duration of my employment here. It has become apparent that I am being discriminated against due to the harassment I have endured here,'' Baker wrote.
''I have applied for five positions, five different times in the agency that I am qualified for. I have been rejected without good cause each time,'' stated the document. Baker wrote that the relationship with Dumbeck began as ''small talk'' and ''in a matter of two months, Erich began to talk to confide in me over personal issues. He would talk to me about inappropriate things about his marriage falling apart and about his sexual relationship with his wife. He stated that he found me attractive and would like to be with a woman like me. He also made inappropriate comments about how I would make a good mother for his children,'' wrote Baker. She also accused him of touching her ''inappropriately on my hips and shoulders during some of these conversations even though I would tell him to stop,'' the document stated. Widman's letter also stated Huron County Department of Job and Family Services employees Lenora Minor (union president), Amy Leibold and Bonnie Richards were advised by her of the situation but failed to act. ''They did nothing at this time, but told me that I was just as much at fault,'' Baker's letter stated. Baker also claims she sent ''an anonymous letter to you (the commissioners) but nothing was done,'' the letter said.

From The Mornin...

Quoted from text of The Morning Journal 4/18/07: The Huron County Department of Job and Family Services employee who told county commissioners that department Director Erich Dumbeck's ''unwelcome'' attention cost her five promotions has sued the county, according to Common Pleas Court records.Nichole Baker was hired at the department as a file clerk in January 2004 and worked under Dumbeck's supervision until he was promoted to director in April, 2004, according to the lawsuit. Baker is suing Dumbeck and acting Director Bonnie Richards, individually and professionally, while Commissioners Ralph Fegley, Gary Bauer and Mike Adelman are being sued in only their professional capacity, the lawsuit stated.Baker is claiming ''sex discrimination, hostile work environment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress'' and wants a jury to award her appropriate compensation as well as force the department to promote her with back pay for a position she was denied in October 2006, according to the lawsuit. When Baker was hired on at the Department of Job and Family Services, she was a single mother in a relationship with a single man while Dumbeck was a married man with two children, the lawsuit stated.''Dumbeck began seeking out (Baker's) company at DJFS within two months of (her) employment, confiding in (Baker) personal information about his marriage, sex life, and his attraction to (her),'' the lawsuit stated. ''Defendant Dumbeck knew or should have known that his continued inappropriate efforts to establish an intimate relationship with (Baker) caused her serious emotional distress. (His) treatment of (her) was so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond the bounds of decency and would be considered intolerable by any reasonable person in a civilized community,'' the lawsuit stated.

From The Mornin...

Quoted from text of The Morning Journal 4/18/07: Baker's lawsuit also claims that until at least January 2007, Dumbeck would touch her on the hips, shoulders and back despite her repeated efforts to let him know she was uncomfortable with the situation, according to the lawsuit.
She also claims in the lawsuit that on March 17, 2004, Dumbeck made an unwelcome advance toward her at a Norwalk bar. Baker sent an anonymous complaint to the commissioners in July 2004 about the situation and also asked the union at Job and Family Services to intervene, but no action was taken by the union on her behalf, the lawsuit stated. Then-County Administrator Mary Cain talked to Dumbeck, but no other action was taken, the lawsuit stated. ''After complaining to the union about the unwelcome contact, the Human Resources Director at DJFS, Defendant Bonnie Richards, told plaintiff that she was responsible for Defendant Dumbeck's conduct and that plaintiff was "flattered" to have attention from a powerful man. Defendant Richards did not take any action toward Director Dumbeck with regard to the situation; she only accused plaintiff of welcoming the attention and essentially causing the uncomfortable situation,'' the lawsuit stated. A second employee sent an anonymous letter to the commissioners in July 2004 ''in which the employee specifically stated that Defendant Dumbeck was "having an affair with an employee of this agency," and that the affair "had not been discrete and is causing many problems,''' the lawsuit also stated.

From The Mornin...

Quoted from text of The Morning Journal 4/18/07: Baker claims the ''unwelcome physical contact and intimate, suggestive comments'' continued regularly until January 2007, the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit also claims Dumbeck called Baker every day, sometimes multiple times, and visited her at home, sometimes bringing her gifts when she was recuperating at home following a surgery, the lawsuit stated. In October 2006, after being rejected for a fifth position, Baker filed a written sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaint with county commissioners, according to the lawsuit. In November 2006, the county's equal employment opportunity officer concluded ''evidence did not support claim of adverse employment decisions'' although evidence ''does indicate that the alleged Offender (Defendant Dumbeck) continues to contact complaining party (Baker) in a manner perceived by her as unneeded and undesired,'' stated the lawsuit.
The complaint to the county was ruled ''unsubstantiated'' or ''unfounded,'' stated the lawsuit. In February, Baker's attorney asked the county to reconsider its ruling, but the county has yet to respond, the lawsuit stated.
''Representatives of defendants continue to make comments to (Baker) that reflect bias against her because of Defendant Dumbeck's infatuation with her,'' the lawsuit stated.

Interesting (An...

We have one side of the story, I would like to hear the other side. I don't think we should base our opinions on only one side of the story.

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