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Sep 8, 2015 4:17 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Fired Westhampton Free Library Employee May Collect Unemployment

Sep 9, 2015 9:13 AM

An administrative law judge with the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board has ruled that a former Westhampton Free Library employee dismissed earlier this summer for discussing salary increases with her coworkers did not deserve to be fired.

In his August 31 decision, Judge David Kim states that former library administrative assistant Sabina Trager qualifies for her unemployment benefits because she did not discuss confidential information with her former coworkers—in this instance, individual employee raises for next year that were later posted on the library’s website—as had been alleged at the time of her termination.

“The credible evidence establishes that the claimant lost her employment under non-disqualifying conditions … ” Judge Kim wrote. “Accordingly, the claimant’s discussion of percent increases in annual salaries do [sic] not constitute a breach in any confidentiality rule.”

The ruling overturns the initial determination by the state Department of Labor that Ms. Trager, who was employed at the library for three and a half years prior to her termination on June 23 after she allegedly violated its confidentiality policy, did not originally qualify for unemployment benefits because she “lost employment through misconduct.”

Last month’s ruling, however, does not call for Ms. Trager’s reinstatement; it only states that she now qualifies to receive 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.

“They know to write ‘misconduct’ because it’s a red flag,” Ms. Trager said on Monday, referring to the term used by her superiors—namely, longtime Westhampton Free Library Board of Directors President Joan Levan—both at the time of her firing and in her response to complaints filed with the state by Ms. Trager.

Ms. Trager said previously that she was targeted by Ms. Levan after declining to sign a petition for two Westhampton Beach Village Board candidates who had been backed by the library board president—an accusation that Ms. Levan patently denies. Ms. Trager was fired four days after Ms. Levan’s candidates, Brian Tymann and Rob Rubio, won election to the Village Board.

“I was fired for no reason,” Ms. Trager said earlier this week, after the judge ruled that she could earn unemployment benefits. “I was fired because Joan didn’t like me.”

In a Tuesday email, Ms. Levan said the library board opted not to fight Ms. Trager’s request for unemployment benefits, noting that Judge Kim heard only her side of events.

“We did not contest Ms. Trager’s appeal for unemployment benefits because we did not want to invest the time and expense of fighting about this with her,” Ms. Levan wrote. “The Judge’s decision does not change that. So, while we have the option to appeal the decision, we do not plan to do so.”

She then added: “The Judge’s decision does not change our position regarding Ms. Trager’s dismissal.”

In a prepared statement, Westhampton Free Library Director Danielle Waskiewicz said she could not offer her opinion of the situation. “I can’t comment,” she said. “I was on a maternity leave of absence when Ms. Trager was terminated and therefore have no firsthand knowledge of the events surrounding her termination.”

As for Ms. Trager, who was notified of the judge’s decision by mail on September 2, she said she has filed a discrimination complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. In addition to seeking reinstatement to her old part-time position, Ms. Trager, who most recently earned $20 an hour and made about $300 a week, said she intends to seek thousands of dollars in back pay from the library.

She also has not ruled out eventually suing the library for wrongful termination, although if she eventually goes that route, she said she would most likely seek only to have the library pick up her attorney fees which, to date, have totaled $800.

“I am not going to close the door on suing the library,” said Ms. Trager, noting that she is still owed 61 hours of benefits from her former employer. “They wrongfully terminated me …”

She did note that such a complaint can take up to two and a half years to work its way through the system, though she hopes to have the issue closed in about a year.

Ms. Levan said the board, as of Tuesday afternoon, had not been notified regarding the complaint filed by Ms. Trager with the National Labor Relations Board.

Ms. Trager’s firing ignited a push among the Westhampton Beach facility’s employees to unionize, a measure that was overwhelmingly approved last month. Most of the facility’s roughly 40 employees, most of who are part-timers, voted August 21 to form a local chapter of the New York State United Teachers that would represent them in collective bargaining.

The push for unionization came weeks after Ms. Trager’s firing, and employees said they pushed for the change to improve their job security and have a greater say in policies. Ms. Trager also noted that a former coworker of hers, whom she declined to identify, recently filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights regarding her treatment by the library’s board.

Ms. Trager said she shared that individual’s situation because she is not the only worker who has been mistreated by the five-member board that also includes Vice President Karen Andres, Treasurer June Sellin, Secretary Jennifer Mendelson and member Marth-Ann Betjemann. Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore recently stepped down from her post with the library.

Ms. Trager said the uncomfortable and unforgiving environment at the library is what fueled the push for unionization, explaining that it would be an “uphill battle” to convince board members to change the library’s bylaws so that they would be elected by the public as opposed to appointed to their positions. Currently, Ms. Trager said, members are hand-picked by Ms. Levan.

“Joan has done this to many people, and they don’t have the time or resources to bring these things to light,” Ms. Trager said. “She’s messed with the wrong person.”

Kevin Verbesey, the director of Suffolk County Library Systems, said this week that it is not unusual for association libraries—not-for-profit entities like the Westhampton Free Library—to have appointed board members. Though he declined to specifically discuss Ms. Trager’s situation, he noted that such library models “can work very well and do, in fact, work well” throughout the state.

If an issue does arise, Mr. Verbesey said, the best route to typically take is for the public to start a conversation with both the board and library’s director, and the best place to do that is at their meetings, which are open to the public.

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Joan Levan. Figures.
By Nukiepoo (123), Southampton on Sep 11, 15 6:42 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Nukiepoo (123), Southampton on Sep 11, 15 6:42 PM
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