The lawyer for Kosta Diamantis, the former state official who was fired from one job and resigned from another last year, argued Monday that the governor’s top lieutenants created an environment for him unbearable work and had “set a trap” for him that forced him to retire rather than investigate the school building grant program he oversaw.
“Mr. Diamantis claims he was terminated constructively because a situation was created in which his working conditions were so adversarial, so unbearable,” attorney Zach Reiland told a teleconference hearing. before the Employee Review Board on Monday morning.
“The trap was set and they got what they wanted, which was for him to step down and then they could kick him out saying he has no more reward for this. council. They shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” Reiland said.
The hearing lasted nearly two hours, but there was no resolution to the central issue: whether counsel has jurisdiction to hold a hearing on Diamantis’ grievance.
The council was unable to act on Monday because only two of the five council members were present, and three are needed to vote. Council member Victor Schoen said a third council member will review Monday’s hearing transcripts so they can quickly make a decision on whether to hold a full hearing with witnesses.
[The Kosta Diamantis timeline]
On October 28, Governor Ned Lamont removed Diamantis from his position as Undersecretary in the Office of Policy and Management and suspended him with salary from his position as Director of the Office of Grants and Review. construction of schools, classified employment with civil services protections.
The move came shortly after reports surfaced that Diamantis’ daughter had secured a job with then-Attorney General Richard Colangelo’s office, at the same time Colangelo was seeking Diamantis’ help in obtaining raises for himself and prosecutors in other states. A federal investigation into the school grant program was also underway.
Rather than accept the suspension, Diamantis retired.
Hours after retiring, Diamantis attempted to rescind his retirement, only to have then-DAS commissioner Josh Geballe turn him down because he had resigned “not in good standing”.
Attorney Adam Garelick of the Bureau of Labor Relations argued that Diamantis was not terminated but voluntarily resigned and left the state as an “unlicensed employee”, and therefore his complaint is without merit.
“Mr. Diamantis has not been demoted. He has not been suspended and he has not been fired. He has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. He has not been aggrieved due to alleged unlawful discrimination. He chose to resign immediately. It was his decision. In fact, it had been noted that he could remain on payroll on paid administrative leave,” Garelick said.
Garelick also said the state denies all allegations of racial discord by Diamantis within the administration or that anyone made his workplace “unbearable.”
“If Mr. Diamantis had believed that there was a violation of any kind of workplace rules or regulations or statutes, he could have filed a complaint with the Employee Review Board at any time, and he did not. didn’t,” Garelick said. “Instead, he waited 30 days after being removed from his position as assistant secretary and placed on paid administrative leave.”
The grievance also says Geballe refused to call off the retreat due to Diamantis’ “unprofessional conduct,” specifically citing two “inappropriate text messages” Diamantis sent on the evening of Oct. 28. The first, in Mounds, read: “I’m coming / Truth is coming / Liars will come forward / Racists too.
A few minutes later, he texted Geballe which read, “I hate liars and racists.”
One of Diamantis’ main arguments is that Geballe was not the right person to rule on overturning the resignation because he was technically not his boss under a memorandum of understanding that transferred the entire school construction program at OPM a few years earlier.
“In fact, when her resignation was handed in, it was handed in to [OPM] secretary [Melissa] McCall, and I believe the regulations state that a resignation must be presented to the appointing authority,” Reiland said. “Apparently Melissa McCall was the appointing authority when her resignation was tendered, but not… three hours later when he attempted to rescind that resignation?”
Documents obtained by the CT Mirror show that Diamantis’ grievance had already been dismissed in two other closed sessions, before a DAS human resources official and an arbitrator.
The Employee Review Board is his last resort under his state contract.
In his grievance, Diamantis alleges that Geballe and Mounds resented him for speaking out about how they and other commissioners treated McCaw. (Geballe’s mother, Shelley Geballe, a lawyer and Yale professor of public health, is a founding board member of the nonprofit Connecticut News Project Inc., operator of CTMirror.org.)
Diamantis describes secretly eavesdropping, at McCaw’s request, on Zoom meetings with other commissioners and state officials so he could “witness the treatment she was receiving.”
The grievance describes another Zoom meeting between state commissioners where McCaw addressed an unnamed commissioner’s “abusive and disrespectful behavior towards the secretary” and accused him “of being rooted in racial discrimination/animosity “.
Diamantis’ original complaint details his last day as a state employee – October 28, 2021.
Diamantis said he was at the UConn Health Center with his gravely ill mother when McCaw called him and asked her to come to his office. Upon arrival, McCaw informed him that he had been immediately removed from his position as Deputy Secretary of the OPM and was placed on paid administrative leave from his classified position as Director of the Office of Construction Grants. schools pending an internal investigation.
Diamantis had held the dual position for almost two years.
McCaw told him that the misconduct investigation related to the hiring of his daughter as an executive assistant to the Chief State’s Attorney and that it was an “inappropriate quid pro quo” arrangement, in which the Chief State’s Attorney would receive approval for a beneficial pay action by the OPM. and her daughter would receive the position of executive assistant. Diamantis says the combination of his mother’s illness, the charges against him and his potential dismissal left him distraught and emotionally compromised.
An hour later, he met with OPM’s human resources manager to discuss pension benefits and any payments that would be due to him depending on whether he retired or was made redundant.
At the same time that Diamantis was reviewing his retirement papers, he received a letter from Lamont informing him that he was being discharged from the OPM. Diamantis then signed a resignation letter and his retirement papers, according to the complaint.
The grievance said the decision to resign “cannot be separated from the surrounding circumstances. He was distraught, confused and overwhelmed by the fact that his 25 years of public service had inexplicably taken place in less than two hours.
Three hours later, Diamantis asked the OPM’s director of human resources if he could rescind his resignation and submitted a letter to OPM officials asking to do so.
The next day, OPM officials asked Diamantis to come to headquarters and sign more documents, even though he was trying to reverse his resignation, the grievance says. But that same day, Geballe denied his request to rescind his resignation, saying that under state statutes, Diamantis was not an “employee in good standing” and therefore would not be rehired.
In February, the existence of a federal investigation into the public school construction subsidy program was revealed. It started shortly before Diamantis was fired.
Diamantis had overseen the distribution of more than $1 billion in school construction grants, and federal grand jury subpoenas explored how some of those contracts were awarded — particularly the construction management contracts that were going to a company that was hiring his daughter part-time while they were getting work from the state.