January 24, 2012

Christian Leagues cleared

Panel says former staffer was legally fired

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- A state panel on Monday cleared the Christian Civic League of Maine and the Christian Education League of claims that they illegally fired a former administrative staffer and later tried to intimidate him for filling a complaint.

Michael Hein, who lives in Augusta and had worked for the Christian Civic League of Maine since June 2006, was fired Aug. 11, 2010, by Carroll L. Conley Jr., within two weeks of Conley becoming executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine. Conley previously had served on the league's board of directors.

Hein went to the Maine Human Rights Commission, charging that the league retaliated against him as a "whistleblower" for telling the Department of Labor that the group had an illegal working relationship with a staff writer, Fritz Spencer.

Hein maintained that Spencer, who also rented living quarters upstairs at the league's Sewall Street offices, functioned as an employee, not as an independent contractor.

Hein also claimed the league retaliated against him in writing on April 27, 2011, in a letter asking him to quit using a logo of the Maine Family Policy Council, return a computer hard drive and stop using the group's email list.

Both Hein and Spencer were at the Maine Human Rights Commission hearing on Monday.

There, Hein asked commissioners to overturn a recommendation by the agency's chief investigator, Barbara Lelli. She recommended a finding that there were no reasonable grounds to believe Hein was a victim of illegal discrimination.

The league said Hein was fired because of deep philosophical differences between him and the new leadership of the league and Conley's belief that Hein was unwilling to change.

The "executive director and the board wanted to engage in a respectful dialogue with those with whom they disagreed on key issues such as abortion and homosexual rights," Lelli wrote in her report. She also said Conley "did not believe that Mr. Hein was committed to his vision for the organization."

At Monday's hearing, Lelli told commissioners, "The balance of evidence here is there was a legitimate reason other than whistleblower retaliation for the termination."

The commissioners voted 4-0 to uphold Lelli's recommendation.

Afterward, Hein acknowledged he had an uphill battle at the public session.

"It's difficult," he said. "Once that investigator's report came out, I knew it would be difficult to get the chief investigator's recommendation overturned."

Hein, who previously had described himself as "a deeply religious man," also handed out a printed statement after the Monday hearing calling for the resignations of Conley and the league's board chairman, Robert Emrich, "in order to maintain the reputation of the Christian Civic League of Maine and the institution of traditional marriage."

Hein said he has been working for a temporary staffing agency. Spencer said he no longer lives in the league's building and has not written for the league since his contract ended.

In response to a question from the commission, attorney Frank T. McGuire, who represented the league, said the state Department of Labor investigated Hein's claim and that the league paid a fine to the Workers' Compensation Board for misclassifying Spencer as an independent contractor.

Betty Adams -- 621-5631

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