The State Worker

The State Worker: State employee says she’s been punished for truth telling

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

In the space of a week, Chris Thomas went from shock to sorrow to outrage. She told the truth, she says, and now she’s paying the price for it.

In a whistle-blower retaliation complaint filed last week, Thomas says an official at the state’s new health insurance exchange committed to hiring her then reneged after this column’s companion State Worker blog posted a report with her name in it.

The report detailed how Thomas, who works in the Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s personnel shop, told her bosses two years ago that an employee lacked the college education or the experience for a job promotion.

Despite Thomas’ “adamant” request for an investigation into the promotion, according to the report, management insisted it go through, Thomas testified during a hearing at the State Personnel Board, which polices California’s civil service laws. Worse, the managers planned to claim the promotion was an honest mistake if questioned about it, Thomas said.

When the employee’s next promotion came up, Thomas said she didn’t fight it, convinced the fix was in on it, too.

The Personnel Board investigated and voided both promotions. The employee didn’t knowingly break the law, the board said. But department officials? They knew.

So on Jan. 27, the board issued a decision that included a deeper investigation into the department’s hiring practices.

That same day, Thomas was wrapping up a transfer to a management job with Covered California, the new agency that administers the state’s version of national health care.

“I received final clearance ... so I am now officially able to offer you the (management) position! Are you still interested?” exchange manager Katherine Minnich wrote in a Jan. 27 email Thomas provided to this column.

Thomas’ emailed reply: “I would like to start as soon as possible.”

The two agreed she would start in time for a big Feb. 10 employee orientation .

Minnich: “Welcome aboard!”

The Fair Employment story hit The Sacramento Bee on Jan. 28, along with the blog post.

On Feb. 3, an email from Minnich with this line: “New information has been brought to my attention that causes me to have to rescind the employment offer to you.”

“What have I done?” Thomas emailed back.

As of Wednesday, she still hadn’t received an answer to that question. The column called, too, but a spokeswoman said the department wouldn’t discuss it. Personnel matter.

Thomas has gone from shock to sorrow to anger to gritty resolve to stand up again. The health exchange rejects integrity instead of valuing it, she says.

“This could dog me my whole career,” she said. “But my story needs to be told. People need to see what’s going on.”