July 18, 2006
STATE ABILITY TO DISMISS AN EMPLOYEE WHO ADMITS POTENTIAL MISCONDUCT WHILE COOPERATING WITH FEDERAL INVESTIGATION
By: John Moran, Principal Analyst
You asked whether the state can dismiss former Department of Children and Families (DCF) Commissioner Kristine Ragaglia from her position at the Department of Social Services (DSS) after she admitted in secret grand jury testimony to potential misconduct as DCF commissioner. Since you made this request, DSS began the process of taking action against Ragaglia and, just before a hearing on the matter, she announced her resignation from state service effective July 19.
You also wanted to know whether it is more difficult for the state to dismiss an employee who has an alcohol or drug dependency problem.
Since Ragaglia had earned civil service status as a state employee before she became DCF commissioner, she retained that status after she was not reappointed as DCF head. This enabled her to continue state employment as long as she was otherwise qualified for an open position (see OLR Report 2003-R-0558). At DSS she was manager of the fraud and recoveries unit. In May, DSS indicated it was investigating Ragaglia's actions in her previous state jobs. In July, DSS scheduled a disciplinary hearing where Ragaglia could present her side of the story, but she chose to resign from state service and did not appear at the hearing.
An agency seeking to take personnel action against an employee must do its own investigation. The employee must be given a chance at a hearing to confront or contradict any charges against her. After the hearing, the agency commissioner decides whether and what type of discipline to impose, which could range from a written reprimand to dismissal. The agency must be able to show cause to justify the discipline.
Non-union employees can appeal administrative discipline to the state Employee Review Board. Unionized state employees can appeal administrative discipline through a grievance brought under their contract.
Proof of alcohol or drug dependency may mitigate the level of discipline but is normally not a factor in determining just cause for discipline.
Federal authorities investigated Ragaglia as part of their probe into Rowland administration officials illegally steering contracts and accepting gifts. She was primarily investigated for her role in steering a no-bid contract to businessman William Tomasso to build a $55-million juvenile detention center in Middletown. It was publicly known in 2003 that Ragaglia took a 1998 trip with Tomasso to Ohio to see a model detention center before the contract was granted and sat on the panel that approved granting Tomasso the contract.
Federal prosecutors decided not to bring charges against Ragaglia as she agreed to cooperate in the investigation. Last year Tomasso pled guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges and this year was sentenced to 2 ½ years in jail.
Further details of her involvement became public in May 2006. These included limousine trips to expensive restaurants and hotels in Boston and New York with former Rowland chief of staff Peter Ellef and deputy chief of staff Lawrence Alibozek. Often they were accompanied by Tomasso, who paid the tab. The trips took place in the months before the detention center contract was awarded. Ellef and Alibozek have each pled guilty to charges related to the contract steering and bribery.
With the May revelations, Governor Rell ordered DSS to remove Ragaglia's anti-fraud duties and investigate whether she should be dismissed from state service. DSS hired an outside legal firm with labor,
personnel, and ethics expertise to assist the department. The firm, Kainen, Escalera & McHale, produced a confidential memorandum that recommended Ragaglia's dismissal, according to news reports.
The DSS commissioner presented Ragaglia with a statement of charges against her and indicated dismissal was under consideration. A hearing date was set where Ragaglia, like any state employee facing possible personnel action, would have the opportunity to present her side of the story. Raggalia submitted her resignation on July 5, the day the hearing was scheduled, to be effective on July 19. Her resignation made the hearing unnecessary.