Metro

THOMAS FARRAGHER

Deb Goldberg rues decision that cost employee her job

Deb Goldberg was under no legal requirement to hold Hannah Fisher’s job application in confidence.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Deb Goldberg was under no legal requirement to hold Hannah Fisher’s job application in confidence.

The first draft of my urgent plea to Secretary of State Bill Galvin, our chief elections officer, was composed even before I was ushered into the finely appointed office of the state treasurer on Tuesday afternoon.

“Dear Secretary Galvin,’’ it began. “I’ve made a terrible mistake. I voted for Deb Goldberg for treasurer last November. I did my due diligence on candidates for governor. But treasurer?

“Like a lot of people, I simply wasn’t paying attention. I know it’s a flimsy excuse. But I need a mulligan — the golfer’s term for a do-over. Expunge the record, please. Subtract my vote from Goldberg’s tally pronto.’’

Goldberg made headlines last week when my estimable colleague, the Globe’s Frank Phillips, wrote a jaw-dropping account about how Goldberg reacted last fall after learning that a 28-year-old law school graduate named Hannah Fisher had applied for a low-level job in the treasurer’s office Goldberg would soon lead.

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Fisher had been hired in early 2014 as an adoptions coordinator at a small nonprofit in Newton called Adoptions With Love. Goldberg is that group’s board chairman. A red flag went up. Goldberg got directly involved. And soon Goldberg and Fisher were on the phone together just days before last Thanksgiving.

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Goldberg characterized the phone call’s tone as even and professional. Fisher called it punitive and unpleasant. But both women agree on its message. Goldberg told Fisher she had to disclose to her employer that she was job hunting.

“To have the recently elected state treasurer call me to tell me I had seriously screwed up by applying for this job was shocking,’’ Fisher told me Tuesday by phone from California, where she is visiting family. “I never knew job hunting was something that’s wrong.’’

Fisher is 28. She wasn’t going to stay at Adoptions With Love forever. She was making $36,000 a year. The job in the treasurer’s office held the promise of a healthy raise. She wanted to move up. All perfectly understandable.

“I was terrified because this woman could bury me,’’ Fisher said, noting that Goldberg gave her a Jan. 1 deadline to out herself and her job hunt to her bosses. “She had power and influence and she could drive me out of the job market in Massachusetts if she so desired.’’

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Goldberg was under no legal requirement to hold Fisher’s job application in confidence. No statute says so.

But common sense does.

As we sat by the marble fireplace in her ornate State House office Tuesday, I asked Goldberg if she thinks she owes Fisher, now jobless and looking, an apology.

Instead, Goldberg, who has a law degree and a Harvard MBA, took me on a rhetorical tour of her background as a fourth-generation employee of Stop & Shop, which her family once ran and where she once served as an executive.

She described her family’s benevolence to employees who were treasured, and whose health benefits were top-notch.

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And, after all, Goldberg said, Fisher was part of a four-member staff at Adoptions for Love, an intimate workplace where sensitive duties were performed. Surely, she argued, that required full disclosure of pending plans to look elsewhere for work.

When I told Goldberg that I disagreed, that I found it outrageous that an employee’s job search would place her in peril, her tone, thankfully, shifted.

“In retrospect, I feel terrible that this has happened,’’ she said. “I feel terrible that [Fisher] felt the way she did. I wish we could do it all over again. I absolutely would apologize to her. I would love a do-over. Something like this will never happen again.’’

So, it turns out that Goldberg wants a mulligan, too.

Fisher, whose last day at the Newton-based nonprofit was this month, said an apology from Goldberg would be terrific.

What would be even better, she said, would be a change in state law that would make it a conflict of interest for newly elected officials, even before they are sworn in, to use private information the way Goldberg did.

Maybe our newly chastened treasurer could lead that fight.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.