NY State Engineer Praised Employer Before Being Forced Out
(NEW YORK) -- A former employee of the New York State's Department of Transportation maintains that he was fired for speaking to the press, even though he had nothing but good things to say about his employer.
But the DOT claims they fired Mike Fayette, an engineer who worked for the agency for 29 years, because of blemishes on his work record.
In August 2012, Fayette, spoke with the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, a newspaper in upstate New York, about Hurricane Irene. Chris Knight, a reporter with the Enterprise, said he first tried contacting the Department of Transportation's press office but did not receive a response. Instead, he reached out to Fayette, 55.
In the article, Fayette praised his employer over its preparation for Hurricane Irene. The newspaper printed a quote from Fayette in bold on its front page: "We were up for it."
This month, Fayette, of Alexandria Bay, N.Y., chose to retire early instead of fighting charges of "insubordination and failure to comply with settlement terms previously agreed upon."
Those settlement terms were in reference to disciplinary actions against him for a relationship with a subordinate employee over a year ago.
Fayette admits that he made a mistake in using his employer-issued Blackberry, computer, and vehicle during communications with the employee.
"It's an embarrassing chapter in my life. I just want to get past it," Fayette said.
He was suspended for 10 days and he was fined 10 days' pay.
"I held up my end of the bargain. They docked my pay and took vacation time. I complied with all of that. When do I stop paying?" Fayette said.
A spokesman for the Department of Transportation provided a statement to ABC News:
"This individual had a record of substantiated violations of state and DOT policy, including the misuse of state resources to further an inappropriate sexual relationship with a subordinate. As publicly available records make clear, his separation from state service was based upon this entire history. Our employees talk to the press every day in the course of their duties, employees are not terminated for failure to follow general media policies and that was not the basis of termination in this case."
The statement that employees are free to talk to the media contradicts Fayette's account of disciplinary actions against him.
In September, after the Enterprise's article was published, Fayette received the first of several letters from the Department of Transportation's Employee Relations Bureau, which ordered him to the agency's main office in Albany on Sept. 12 for a "disciplinary interrogation."
Sometime during the hearing, Fayette said he was shown the Transportation Department's "News Media Contact" policy. It states that the approval of the department's press office is required "for any oral or written statement given to news media representatives," the Enterprise reported.
Two days later, he received a second letter that stated that his employer initiated discipline for "actions constituting misconduct and/or incompetence" and if guilty, "the penalty exacted against you will consist of termination," the Enterprise first reported.
Eventually, the department offered Fayette to relocate to an office in Albany and a permanent demotion in his pay.
Instead of accepting the drop in pay, which would have cost several thousand dollars a year, and unable to afford to move, Fayette chose early retirement instead.
What has made Fayette even more upset than the forced retirement is that a representative of the state shared a detailed account of Fayette's employee history and disciplinary actions on the radio Thursday.
After the Adirondack Daily Enterprise published a story on Wednesday describing Fayette's forced retirement, Howard Glaser, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's director of state operations, was a guest on a radio show. In the interview Glaser described how Fayette used 2,400 emails "to conduct personal business," some of which were sexually explicit, and he was disciplined for "theft of service" and "falsification of time sheets."
As a state employee, Fayette's employee history is public record, but Fayette thinks Glaser's actions were "malicious."
"It was never ever my intention to embarrass the governor of our fine state," said Fayette, adding that he has met the governor previously.
With over a year between his last indiscretion and speaking with the media about Hurricane Irene, Fayette said it seemed contradictory if the straw that broke the camel's back -- speaking to the media -- was actually permissible under agency policy.
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