Former CUNA Exec Alleges He Was Fired As Retaliation For Complaints

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Testimony in a case involving a former SVP of CUNA, who has alleged that he was wrongfully terminated in 2004 after reporting that sexist, homophobic and racist remarks were being made by a senior staff member, has been postponed for several weeks due to scheduling conflicts between attorneys and a court reporter at the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission.

MEOC Hearing Examiner Clifford E. Blackwell, III, said that once both sides present their cases, he will decide the merits of the complaint filed by Michael J. Miller against CUNA and COO John Franklin a month after Miller's termination. Once testimony is completed, Blackwell said, the court reporter will likely take up to 30 days to prepare transcripts. Both sides will then have 45 to 60 days to review the documents and prepare final briefs.

"If there is a finding of discrimination, or in this case, retaliation, I can award and order that Miller get his job back or the first available job, back pay, front pay, emotional distress damages and/or cost of expenses to bring this action against CUNA," Blackwell said. "If I find there was no retaliation, both parties will go on their way."

Blackwell said his decision can be appealed by either party to the MEOC and the state court system.

In his complaint, Miller alleged that his "abrupt" termination on Sept. 9, 2004 was in retaliation for complaints he made to senior managers, including CEO Dan Mica, Washington D.C.-based COO Richard McBride, and SVP and Associate General Counsel Judy Cooper about discriminatory remarks he alleged were made by CUNA's then new Madison-based COO John Franklin, who had been CEO of the South Carolina league.

CUNA Responds To Charge

In response to Miller's allegations, legal counsel for CUNA reported that Miller was terminated not because of the complaints he made, rather because of his poor attitude and inability to cooperate with Franklin after he was passed over for a promotion.

"He repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with not having been selected for the COO position; he repeatedly stated that he could not work for the new COO and that CUNA should fire him (Mr. Miller)," stated the response, signed by Attorney Lauri D. Morris, of Quarles & Brady, LLP, Madison. "Despite many attempts by CUNA to let Mr. Miller know he remained a valuable team member, his disruptive actions continued. CUNA concluded that it had no choice but to terminate his employment for these legitimate business reasons."

Miller first started working at CUNA in August of 1993. He was terminated in January 1995, but rehired a year later.

"By the year 2004, I had been promoted a number of times," Miller wrote in his complaint. "...As of January 2004, there had been no substantial complaints or criticisms concerning my performance and I had received good evaluations, raises and promotions."

He said it wasn't until after he started complaining about comments made by Franklin, who was hired in January 2004, that tension flared in his work environment.

"...I observed Mr. Franklin make numerous sexually and racially derogatory remarks as well as derogatory remarks about the sexual orientation of others or what he perceived to be the sexual orientation of others," Miller wrote. "Mr. Franklin made such remarks in my presence and in the presence of other employees who found the remarks distasteful, discriminatory and made in situations where employees, including myself, felt quite uncomfortable."

CUNA's written response did state that Franklin admitted making inappropriate comments to "a small group of men whom he regarded as trusted friends" and agreed that such remarks have no place in the work environment, but denied intent to offend anyone.

The response said that Franklin believed the statements attributed to him were taken out of context.

The response stated that CUNA officials were concerned about the allegations and told Miller that CUNA did not condone the conduct alleged. After they confronted Franklin, he called a meeting with the entire Madison staff and apologized for "inappropriate comments he may have made." Franklin also scheduled sensitivity and harassment training with an outside law firm for the entire management team.

"Mr. Miller's report was taken seriously and was addressed more than four months prior to his termination," the document stated. "Moreover, the action taken by CUNA was effective; CUNA received no further reports of inappropriate comments made by Mr. Franklin."

What was not corrected, according to CUNA's paperwork, was Miller's continued verbal disrespect for Franklin.

"The complainant was not terminated because of how he performed his job duties," the document stated. "He was terminated because he was unable to accept the fact that he was not selected as the Madison COO and took continued, repeated actions to undermine the selected COO."

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