Pay Up! Humane Soc Ordered To Pay Whistleblower
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH, KY - The man who was fired almost a year after he secretly recorded euthanizations at the McCracken County Humane Society will receive pay for the time he was between jobs.
Jeremiah Robertson was notified by mail on June 17 that he won his appeal after the Humane Society fought his request for unemployment in October 2012. He'll get paid for the two months he was unemployed, or just over $1,100. Robertson said it was no longer about the money, although he said it was tough not having income right before Christmas. For him, the uncertainty of the situation was replaced with relief.
"You have faith, you know everything's right, you have that good feeling, you know, you believe you done it right, but you just don't really know what the outcome's gonna be. It was very rewarding knowing that a third-party felt the same way and understood things exactly the way they were," he said.
Robertson was fired October 22, 2012 when the Humane Society said he was insubordinate and violated a new policy. That policy was adopted after Robertson's secret recordings in fall 2011 led to trials for two employees over how euthanizations were performed. The "Whistleblower" policy stated that the Society would not retaliate against employees who may bring on-the-job concerns to them in writing before going public with information.
The Referee's findings of fact go on to say that in September 2012, a family surrendered a dog to the Humane Society. They asked to be notified if anything would cause the dog to be euthanized, because they would come back and get it. Executive Director Terri Vannerson had the dog checked by a veterinarian three times, and they euthanized the dog after determining it was aggressive. When Robertson and his girlfriend, who volunteered at the shelter, learned this, the girlfriend told the family who brought in the dog. The upset family contacted local media because they claim they were told animals would no longer be put down.
Robertson was confronted at work for contacting the dog's previous owner, which he denied, while requesting a copy of the policy he was accused of violating. He also refused to leave when asked, which would have required him to walk past Vannerson in a narrow space. He was fired a few days later, and a copy of the policy was included with a letter from the Board of Directors.
The Unemployment Insurance Referee specified four reasons for awarding the pay:
1. The "Whistleblower" policy was not reasonable, since Robertson could not be expected to follow the chain of command this time, when his efforts were ignored before. The policy also said an employee "may" submit a complaint in writing, not "shall".
2. Since the policy says the agency "would not retaliate" if a written complaint is made, it could be implied that they "would retaliate" without a documented complaint.
3. Robertson didn't call the family who gave the dog - his girlfriend did - so he didn't violate it the policy.
4. Robertson was not insubordinate for disagreeing with Vannerson about whether he was informed of the new policy, requesting to see the policy manual, or refusing to leave her office and clock out. Testimony indicated he was not vulgar and didn't act in a threatening manner.
When contacted about the decision, Humane Society President Dr. James Shumaker did not comment.
The original incident in 2011 revolved around two Humane Society employees, Beau Anderson and Delana Hall, and eventually went to trial. Robertson recorded Anderson euthanizing animals without first sedating them, which is required by state law. He also provided evidence that Hall had illegally euthanized animals, since she was not a state certified euthanization specialist.
After evidence was presented at their joint trial in August 2012, Anderson pled guilty to lesser charges of falsifying records, and later pled guilty to animal cruelty charges. Hall was convicted of euthanizing animals without a license, but that conviction was overturned on a technicality. She still works at the Humane Society.
In November of last year, Robertson filed a lawsuit against the Humane Society, claiming they discriminated and retaliated against him, violating state law and the Fair Labor and Standards Act, violating their own policy, and defamation. It asks for compensation and damages, along with back pay and re-instatement. Robertson's attorney, Jeff Alford, said the lawsuit is in the information phase, and financial amounts have not been discussed, but re-instatement is no longer realistic or beneficial to his client.