Michael Nadeau, a Maine Bureau of Insurance worker, went out of his way to tell his office about his personal life.
He told them in 2005 when he was interested in a woman he had met, he told them when he eventually started dating her and he told them when he moved in with her in 2006 (after all, he was changing his address for paychecks). Nadeau took the extra precautions in part because the object of his affections was an insurance company manager he met while he was part of a team examining the company she worked for–and therefore she was a conflict of interest he had to disclose. (According to testimony, Nadeau waited until the examination was finished to begin dating her.)
He didn't tell them when he married her, but he came back from his honeymoon wearing a wedding ring. His co-workers threw him a party in the conference room, featuring a cake and a gift of opera tickets.
But Nadeau–a 13-year employee who was promoted steadily, reaching the position of examiner-in-charge–was fired in 2010 for his marriage. The firing came after a supervisor twice ordered him to perform work Nadeau knew (and said) was a conflict of interest, and after Nadeau asked for a written opinion on the subject.
Wrote Anne Head, commissioner of the Maine Department of Financial and Professional Regulation: "Your marriage to an insurance company manager represents a conflict of interest. As a result of this determination, your employment with the Bureau of Insurance will cease."
"Most of the people I've shared my story with look at me and say, 'Okay, what did you really get fired for?' No one can believe I got fired just because of my marriage, but it's true," Nadeau told the Service Employees International Union blog. "It's right there in my letter of termination."
This week an arbitrator ordered the State of Maine to reinstate Nadeau with back pay.
"None of the statutory provisions introduced in the record clearly compelled Nadeau's termination," arbitrator Joseph M. Daly wrote in the decision. "Nor is there any evidence that the Bureau considered any alternatives to termination in assignment of duties to Nadeau, which from a legal and operational perspective would have allowed for his continued employment. In simpler terms, there is no record evidence that the State made sufficient efforts to make sure it was right."
Said Tim Belcher, the general counsel for the Maine State Employees Association: "Michael Nadeau complied with the relevant conflict of interest laws and did the right thing every step of the way, yet the state fired him based on shoddy legal research by an assistant attorney general who applied the wrong statute."
Belcher added: "Maine law simply does not dictate who employees can marry."
Said Nadeau: "I am looking forward to putting this all behind me and getting on with my life."
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