The state auditor has launched an investigation of the use of settlements and nondisclosure agreements by state and quasi-governmental agencies, including the Massachusetts Port Authority, according to the auditor and a copy of an engagement letter obtained by the Boston Globe.
On May 19, Auditor Diana DiZoglio sent a letter to Governor Maura Healey and the state’s comptroller, William McNamara, announcing that her office “will be conducting a performance audit of the use of employee settlements between state employees and the Commonwealth’s state organizations” from 2010 through 2022.
One person with direct knowledge of the audit said quasi-public agencies, including Massport, have long used such agreements, and that former Massport CEO Thomas P. Glynn’s use of them had been specifically brought to the auditor’s attention. Healey recently appointed Glynn head of the MBTA board.
“The use of NDAs at Massport was indeed flagged to our office,” DiZoglio told the Globe in an interview. “We are absolutely, as part of our comprehensive audits, looking into the use of NDAs statewide and are going to be investigating their use at Massport.”
Three former Massport employees said they were familiar with Glynn’s use of settlements that often contained nondisclosure or non-disparaging agreements.
Glynn, who served at Massport from 2012 to 2018, defended the severance agreements, which he said “can act as an informal cooling off period between an involuntarily separated employee and their supervisor.”
“It focuses the employee on finding a new job and it focuses the supervisor on managing the people who remain,” he said. “Sometimes, the severance agreement is requested by an employee, sometimes it’s requested by a supervisor, sometimes it’s requested by the agency.”
Described by his peers as one of the most influential minds in the state’s transportation sector, Glynn advised Healey as a leader of her transition team. He most recently worked as an adjunct lecturer in public management at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Beyond his six years at Massport, Glynn has worn many hats in his long career.
He served as the MBTA’s general manager under Governor Michael Dukakis, as chief operating officer of Partners HealthCare for 15 years, and as deputy labor secretary during the Clinton administration. He also was CEO of Harvard’s Allston development company and taught at the university’s Kennedy School.
A former Massport employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the use of such agreements during her time at Massport were “liberal” and that Glynn used them as a strategic tool to remove people he didn’t like.
Another former employee who played a role in overseeing some of the settlements, said the payouts “were incredibly generous” and “very commonplace” under Glynn’s tenure.
A third former employee, a woman of color who said she was fired after six months, said she agreed she wouldn’t discuss her departure because “I didn’t want to blackball myself” for future jobs. She was escorted out by building security, she said, remembering the incident as “embarrassing.”
DiZoglio has long said that she will investigate the use of nondisclosure agreements in settlements across state government to determine how much taxpayer money has been spent to quiet former employees
A nondisclosure agreement typically bars or restricts a party from discussing the terms of a settlement. Sometimes, the language can go further to prohibit a former employee from disparaging a former employer. For example, a severance deal the MBTA signed in 2009 barred a former employee from saying anything that “criticizes the MBTA” or any of its employees, the Globe has reported.
DiZoglio advocated for banning nondisclosure agreements during her 10-year tenure in the Legislature, and had unsuccessfully pressed her predecessor in the auditor’s office, Suzanne Bump, to conduct a similar audit in 2019.
DiZoglio herself had agreed to an NDA after she was fired as a legislative aide amid innuendo and what she described as harassment.
As a state representative, DiZoglio in 2018 spoke out on the House floor against the use of NDAs in the public sector. She has long said she opposes the idea of spending taxpayer dollars on potentially covering up issues such as harassment, discrimination, or abuse. She violated her own NDA by acknowledging the agreement and the fact that the House had used them.
In 2019, the Massachusetts Senate adopted its own ban on the use of nondisclosure agreements in that chamber after overwhelmingly passing a proposal from DiZoglio, who, by that time, had won a Senate seat.
Taylor Dolven and Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.