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PPACG employee claims she was fired because of her illness 

click to enlarge Dawn Meyer is taking on PPACG. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Dawn Meyer is taking on PPACG.

Dawn Meyer consistently received glowing job evaluations.

In fact, her job performance as an accountant at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments was so outstanding that she collected $6,750 in bonuses between 2009 and 2015. Her bonus total for 2014 and 2015 was the second highest of any employee recognized with extra cash by PPACG Executive Director Rob MacDonald.

Then she got cancer.

After that, she says, though she kept working and took only a few days off for surgery, MacDonald and others railroaded her out of the agency.

Meyer spoke with the Independent about her experience in hopes of exposing unfair treatment of employees at PPACG, which has come under fire recently for excessive turnover, public disclosure of ex-employees' personal information and questions about whether it's capturing the region's share of state and federal funding for roads ("What about Rob?" News, Oct. 26).

Meyer is one of at least 10 PPACG employees out of about 38 who left the agency in 2015 and 2016. MacDonald gave the PPACG board a report on turnover in April, listing each employee by name with reasons they left, though several of them took issue with his characterizations. The report was posted online, but later taken down after several ex-workers complained.

Meyer filed a complaint in November 2015 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is pending.

That case and other issues prompted the board to launch an investigation of MacDonald earlier this year, which will culminate in a "final review" at a Dec. 14 board closed-door executive session, says PPACG board president Andy Pico.

Pico, who is also a Colorado Springs City Council member, declined to comment on the EEOC complaint, as did MacDonald and PPACG finance manager Bev Majewski.

In an interview, Meyer describes a hostile work atmosphere in which her supervisor yelled at her, her personal medical and financial information was disseminated to others without her permission, and she was refused accommodation for her illness, despite a doctor's request on her behalf.

"My name has been smeared," she says, "and it's not right."

Meyer moved here from Boston to take an accounting job at PPACG in 2008. She loved her job and, apparently, PPACG loved her.

"I am pleased to formally recognize your work efforts with regard to updating and improving the financial systems and controls here at PPACG," MacDonald wrote in a Sept. 14, 2009, letter awarding Meyer a $1,000 bonus. He noted he'd received "compliments from staff on your dedication to efficiency in the agency's financial systems."

Her bonus letters over the years contain similar accolades. In a July 11, 2011 letter awarding another $1,000, MacDonald commended her "high level of expertise" and praised her work as "truly outstanding."

In 2014, she received two bonuses totaling $2,000 for her "extraordinary effort" in assuring audits went smoothly.

In 2015, she got two more bonuses, totaling $1,500, for her "extra work efforts" and "continued professionalism."

"Everything was absolutely fine right up until I got cancer in 2014," she says. Diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, she had 23 lymph nodes removed, eight of which were positive for cancer, she says.

She underwent chemotherapy but, as a single mother of a young son and the household's sole breadwinner, she wanted to keep working.

Though she'd worked well with Majewski for years, after Meyer became ill, things went south. "She was screaming in my face," Meyer says. "She would actually point her finger in my face."

Meyer complained to MacDonald, but the harassment continued, Meyer says. Though MacDonald agreed to allow Meyer to work some hours from home, Majewski wouldn't hear of it, she says. Instead, Majewski ordered her to train another employee to do her job.

About a week after Meyer filed the EEOC complaint, she asked for a special accommodation that would assist in her recovery from cancer by reducing job stress.

"She reports that neuropathy is worse under stressful work conditions," Lisa Adams, a physician's assistant with University of Colorado Health, wrote in a letter on her behalf. "Please work with her to allow 50% of work to be done from home, which would be a reasonable accommodation for her chemotherapy-induced neuropathy."

Instead of accommodating her, however, MacDonald briefed another employee on Meyer's medical condition and told her to approach Meyer and ask her to leave work and draw disability instead. Meyer said she wasn't interested, because disability payments would cut her annual pay of just under $52,000 by 40 percent. Besides, she adds, she felt capable of working.

Meyer says the other employee conveyed her answer to MacDonald, prompting him to say, "OK. We'll have to go the performance route."

In April 2016, MacDonald issued a letter to Meyer scheduling a pre-termination hearing and citing her "unsatisfactory performance."

Discriminating against employees due to disability is illegal. According to the website of The Case Law Firm, of Chicago, which specializes in such claims, "Disability discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, promotions, training, benefits and any other term or condition of employment is against the law. In addition, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability."

The atmosphere at PPACG, Meyer says, left her feeling like she was "walking on eggshells" and that PPACG officials didn't take her EEOC claim seriously.

Since her departure in May, Meyer says she has discovered another employee was forced out via disability years before her, making her wonder if there's a pattern of discrimination at the agency.

Today, Meyer remains unemployed, although she's "desperately looking for a job." She collected unemployment for a while but became ineligible when she had to cash out her retirement savings to fund her health care, which includes monthly cancer treatments, after losing coverage from PPACG. The treatments don't prevent her from working, she says.

"This might be my last chance to let people know what's going on over there," she says, "and it's going to happen again."

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