Lake Shore Hosp Authority's Berry Terminates 18 Year Veteran Authority Employee, Sue Fraze
The Charge: Insubordination
Posted July 07, 2014, 07:55 am
Sue Fraze in 2009.
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – From 1996 thru 2014, Columbia County/Lake City "hometown girl" Sue Fraze had been a loyal employee of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority. For 14 of those years, Ms. Fraze was the Authority's only employee.
On June 23, 2014, after coming back from vacation, Ms. Fraze was called into Authority Manager Jackson P. "Jack" Berry's office and without warning was terminated for insubordination. Ms. Fraze has appealed her termination to the Authority Board.
In her appeal to the Authority Board, Ms. Fraze told the Board that throughout her term of employment she had served under many Board members without conflict. "I set up the LSHA Financial Assistance Program, ran the Authority’s office and handled all the Authority business and financial matters. I established the LSHA Prescription Assistance Program. From 1996 through 2010 there were never any issues with my job performance."
In October 2009, Mr. Berry resigned from the Hospital Authority Board.
Jackson P. "Jack" Berry in January, 2014
In 2010, Mr. Berry, a former Republican Party Chieftain was hired as the Authority's Part Time Manager. Mr. Berry was never required to keep track of his time and has alternately claimed that he did and he didn't.
Ms. Fraze claimed that after Mr. Berry was hired he "began his campaign of harassment and bullying towards me."
Mr. Berry's evaluations of Ms. Fraze were generally exceptional. In 2011 Mr. Berry gave Ms. Fraze an exceptional evaluation in the public relations category and wrote that she was "doing an outstanding job."
Also in 2011, Mr. Berry was elevated to full time Authority Manager.
Ms. Fraze had reservations regarding the necessity of a part or full time Authority Manager and shared those reservations with a fellow employee and board members.
After sharing those reservations, Ms. Fraze told the Board, "After this, along with the harassment and bullying, I began to receive unwarranted disciplinary reports."
Ms. Fraze's job title was now Administrative Director, but her job duties remained basically the same.
An Unhealthy Workplace Environment
Ms. Fraze claimed an "unhealthy workplace environment." She told the Board:
Mr. Berry would undermine me by talking with other
employees, one about the other, causing strife and
dissension in the office and periodically he would
initiate a political, racial, or religious discussion,
“egging on” discord between employees, and then leave
the building. “Acts of disobedience” purportedly
committed by me were quickly noted in my personnel file.
Mr. Berry singled me out, while continually ignoring the
persistent tardiness of another employee.
The office situation became even more stressful when Mr. Berry sued two Columbia County citizens and became more intolerable after the Authority was sued for alleged public records violations.
In 2011, Ms. Fraze received her first disciplinary report in 15 years of employment. She claimed it was "unwarranted and a form of harassment."
In April 2013, after what appeared to be a mostly personal disagreement with another employee Ms. Fraze was given another written disciplinary report. The other employee did not receive one.
On April 14, 2014, in an event that occurred before the scheduled evening's Board meeting, Ms. Fraze gave a copy of the Authority Meeting Rules to employee Courtney Bryan to give to resident Barbara Lemley. The rules were not posted anywhere and were not available at the meeting. Ms. Fraze did not charge a fee at the time the record was produced. Ms. Lemley never refused to pay the fee, which would have been 15 cents a page or 45 cents.
Mr. Berry claimed he told Ms. Fraze not to give Ms. Lemley a copy of the meeting rules.
Ms. Fraze said he didn't and she wasn't in the room when he claimed he did and that the surveillance cameras showed she was not there.
Mr. Berry claimed that Ms. Fraze was insubordinate and suspended her for three days without pay, or one day for each 15 cents worth of purported insubordination.
The Board-approved Hospital Authority policy states that employees are to be paid weekly and on Friday.
Ms. Fraze told the Board, "In contravention of the approved policy, in or about July 2013, it appeared that Mr. Berry decided he wanted to change payday to Wednesday. I had never received any memo, email, or written directive from Mr. Berry of this change. Mr. Berry and all other employees continued to be paid on Fridays from July 2013 until May of 2014."
Ms. Fraze continued, "All during that time, Mr. Berry never took exception to being paid on Friday, either verbally or in writing."
Worried about her job and feeling like she was in a "Catch 22" Ms. Fraze changed the payroll day to Wednesday, thinking that is what Mr. Berry "wanted."
During the first week of May, Ms. Fraze changed the payday to Wednesday and according to Ms. Fraze a month later an employee went to Mr. Berry and expressed concerns about the payroll day change. Ms. Fraze went on vacation the same day.
On June 23, Ms. Fraze was back from her vacation and went back to work. She didn't get very far. "I was immediately called into Mr. Berry’s office. Mr. Berry read to me from his handwritten notes. He said I was terminated immediately for insubordination. I attempted to have discussion; to offer explanation. None was allowed. I was told my termination was final."
Ms. Fraze told the Observer, "I was wrongfully terminated and wrongfully suspended. Mr. Berry had no authority to override the Board by changing the day we were paid on and I would have gone against Personnel Policy by continuing with the change. Since the time of his hire, he has attempted to intimidate me. "He has bullied and harassed me, and now, after 18 years, taken my livelihood from me and my family."
Ms. Fraze has asked the Board to reinstate her and for the payment of all back pay and health insurance.
The Board meets a week from today on July 14th at 5:15 pm. Ms. Fraze's appeal should be on the agenda.