Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Maine woman sues California security firm, alleging violation of whistleblower protection law privateofficer.com

Maine March 22 2017 A Maine woman has filed suit in federal court against a California security services firm, saying the company retaliated against her when she complained about allegedly illegal acts being committed by one of its executives.
In her lawsuit, Pamela Treadwell of Sidney also said the firm violated Maine’s equal pay act by compensating her less than men who did the same work, even after she took over the duties of a male employee at Vescom Corp.
Vescom is a part of Worldwide Sourcing Group, or WWSG, which also owns the security firms Vets Securing America, American Guard Service and Professional Building Maintenance, a property management company. The company says it is one of the largest privately owned security firms in the country.
Treadwell, who worked for Vescom from 1988 until she resigned in March 2014, said in court documents that many of the problems began when the company hired a man named Ousama Karawia to help with management of the firm. Karawia was convicted in 2012 of grand theft, insurance fraud and possession of an assault weapon for offenses committed at a separate security service he co-owned that had provided security for sites in California and the Statue of Liberty in New York. He was found guilty of setting up a shell company to hide the true number of his employees as a way to avoid paying higher workers’ compensation premiums.
Vescom had an office in Hampden that has since been closed, and the company is now based in California. Treadwell’s lawsuit was filed in Maine state court and subsequently moved to the U.S. District Court in Portland because Vescom is located out of state.
According to the lawsuit, Karawia committed insurance fraud while at Vescom by getting a policy that covered employees of WWSG’s other companies at a low rate, but using Vescom’s claims history rather than the higher claims rate of the other companies. Treadwell said in the lawsuit that she told the company’s owners that Karawia was getting kickbacks from the insurer and that having him involved in the company ran afoul of state licensing regulations that bar felons from having management positions in a security firm. Karawia had been convicted before he was hired at Vescom, and his appeal of his sentence – which included home confinement and probation – was turned down by a California court in 2014.
After forwarding those concerns to the company’s owners, the lawsuit claims, Treadwell was shunned by the top management in the company and told she had to pay for insurance coverage for her husband on her employer-provided health care policy at a cost of $7,800 a year.
Finally, Karawia moved money out of the company’s payroll account, meaning that employees’ checks would bounce, according to the lawsuit. Treadwell said Karawia reminded her that as the company vice president, her name was on the checks, suggesting she might be liable if they bounced.
At that point, Treadwell said she resigned so as not to be implicated in the check-bouncing and accused of submitting false documents to state regulators.
“She thought she had to leave,” Rebecca Webber, Treadwell’s lawyer at the firm Skelton Taintor and Abbott, said in an interview Monday.
Treadwell filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which did not find reasonable grounds for her whistleblower protection and discrimination claims. But Webber said the commission held only a brief telephone conference on the allegations, which led her to decide to file the lawsuit asking for damages. The amount of damages being sought was not disclosed in the lawsuit.
Melissa A. Hewey, a lawyer at Drummond Woodsum who represents Vescom and the other companies, along with Karawia, said the Maine Human Rights Commission finding suggests the case is weak.
“The Human Rights Commission is certainly employee-friendly, and I don’t think there’s any reason to believe the courts will find any differently,” she said.

Both Webber and Hewey said the case would likely go to trial in late fall, although Hewey said she would seek to have a judge issue a summary judgment in her clients’ favor.
Portland Press Herald 

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