The former top deputy to state Auditor Suzanne Bump plans to sue her in federal court Wednesday, saying that Bump conducted reelection activities out of her State House office and worked to curry favor with a labor union in connection to an independent audit of the state’s troubled Department of Children and Families.
Laura Marlin, who worked for Bump for seven years before abruptly leaving in May, said that Bump violated her First Amendment rights, ran afoul of state whistleblower laws, and wrongfully forced her to resign in lieu of being fired after Marlin protested what she called overt electioneering on taxpayer time.
Gerry McDonough, general counsel at the auditor’s office, defended Bump’s actions, saying, “The office of the state auditor had cause to ask Ms. Marlin to resign.”
Marlin alleges that Bump earlier this year distributed nomination papers from her state office and scheduled a campaign-related meeting there to seek the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union Local 509, a human service workers union and one of the state’s most politically influential.
After Marlin protested the meeting being held in the office, Bump moved it to another venue, according to the suit. The auditor later told Marlin that she should have contacted the SEIU political director while working on a March audit of the Department of Children and Families, according to the suit. Many DCF workers are SEIU members.
The audit of the state’s foster care program concluded that DCF was “maintaining a condition where risks can become realities,” according to a press release Bump’s office issued in March. Some child welfare advocates thought the audit should have been more critical of DCF. The department has drawn scrutiny after three children died in what critics said were preventable cases.
When Marlin on May 14 complained to Bump that she was violating the standards of the US comptroller general, presenting her with a memorandum to that effect, Bump “became extremely angry and combative” and “hurled invectives at Ms. Marlin, at times raising her voice and using foul language,” Marlin alleged.
The following Monday, Bump told Marlin she was firing her based on the previous week’s events and because “she could no longer trust [Ms. Marlin] to act in the best interest of the organization.” McDonough, the general counsel, later told Marlin she could choose to resign, and Marlin did.
Bump is seeking reelection in November to a second term after winning a hard-fought battle in 2010 against former Turnpike Authority board director Mary Z. Connaughton, a Republican. This year, she faces Patricia Saint Aubin, a Republican.
The SEIU endorsement is among the state’s most coveted, bringing with it an army of volunteers. The union represents DCF caseworkers, investigators, and supervisors.
McDonough said he was not familiar with the details of the complaint, but broadly denied Marlin’s allegations about why she was asked to resign.
“The office disputes any contention by Ms. Marlin or anyone else that there was any improper motivation behind the reason to do so,” McDonough said in a telephone interview.
Asked to detail reasons behind asking Marlin to resign, McDonough replied, “I don’t think we could go into a personnel matter like that here. She has certain privacy rights. We will of course address those in the course of litigation if it does come to that.”
He declined to comment when asked if campaign activities had been conducted through the auditor’s office. Bump aides declined to make her available for an interview.
Bump’s office is tasked with conducting assessments of state agencies and vendors, intended to root out fraud and waste. Marlin had been a key figure in the office since Bump succeeded Joseph DeNucci, who had held the job for 24 years. Marlin’s sudden departure from the office in May had puzzled Beacon Hill veterans.
The lawsuit portrays an acrimonious breakdown between two high-ranking state officials whom colleagues described as one-time close friends.
Marlin, a former assistant attorney general under Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, began working for Bump after Governor Deval Patrick appointed Bump his labor and workforce development director in early 2007.
Marlin became commissioner of the Division of Occupational Safety, part of the Labor Department, where she worked until 2010, when she became Bump’s campaign manager.
Once Bump took office, she tapped Marlin as her first deputy auditor. According to Marlin’s suit, Bump gave her “positive performance evaluations” and “provided her with merit-based salary” increases in the two most recent annual evaluations.
In her suit, Marlin says that Bump had used the office and employees during working hours to further her reelection hopes, which would be in violation of state law. Marlin said she was in Bump’s office when a state representative, unnamed in the suit, called.
Bump told the lawmaker to come to her State House office to get the nomination papers from an employee, and when Marlin raised a concern Bump dismissed them, according to Marlin.
Marlin also said that a member of Bump’s campaign staff dropped off campaign paperwork at the State House office and that Bump again waved off her complaints.
Marlin is seeking lost wages and benefits, emotional distress and punitive damages, and treble damages.
“This is a strong case and exactly what the First Amendment and whistleblower acts were intended to protect against,” said Marlin’s lawyer, Hillary Schwab.Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.