Friday, June 13, 2003

Children Services dismisses employee

Supervisor filed suit against agency

By Janice Morse and Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - A Butler County Children Services supervisor was fired Thursday by the agency's board after a three-hour executive session.

Debbie Collins was facing a variety of agency charges, including insubordination, dishonesty in investigative meetings and violations of the social workers' ethics code, agency records show.

Collins, an intake supervisor who has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 7, has made counter-accusations that have been denied.

"After many months of independent and internal investigations, fact-finding by experts and discussions, the Butler County Children Services Board voted unanimously to terminate the employment of Debbie Collins, an agency supervisor," the board stated.

Collins had been employed by the agency since July 1995.

Last week, Collins filed a lawsuit in the county's Common Pleas Court alleging sexual harassment, defamation and tortuous interference with her employment. Because Hall Thompson, Children Services Board president, is named in the suit, he said he was excluding himself from any board deliberations or vote regarding Collins.

Thompson denies Collins' claims and says they are a "rehash" of complaints that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had dismissed.

Although the agency withheld some investigative documents pending further action involving Collins, documents the Enquirer obtained Thursday through a public records request to Children Services provide some details on both theEEOC matter and the agency's allegations against Collins.

In a May 9 letter to Collins, Nowel said Collins on April 17 represented herself as an employee of Children Services in a dispute with a family in Warren County, despite a directive that she was not to represent the agency while on administrative leave.

Collins also is accused of making derogatory statements to that family, in violation of agency policy and the social workers' ethics code.

As a licensed social worker, Collins is required to comply with the code, Nowel said in a March 13 letter to her.

Other allegations against Collins included:

• Making "unprofessional and demeaning statements" to a child during a court hearing.

• Making comments to "embarrass and humiliate" members of the staff in public settings.

• Failing to assist a new caseworker before a court hearing.

On March 12, the EEOC received a complaint from Collins.

She alleged that, between the fall of 2001 and the fall of 2002, she was subject to "inappropriate sexual advances and comments by members of the Board who are responsible for oversight of our agency."

Collins also said she was subject to retaliation for making complaints and refusing the advances made toward her.

In a June 2 document, the EEOC said it was "unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes." However, the EEOC said Collins retained the right to file suit in federal court within 90 days.


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