Paris Bookkeeper fired for ‘taking vacation all at once’

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PARIS — Former bookkeeper Paula Locke was fired for failing to report to work, according to Town Manager Vic Hodgkins, but Locke contends it was a vacation dispute and she didn’t have an opportunity for an executive session with selectmen on the matter.

Locke, a Casco resident who worked for the town of Paris for the past five years, was terminated on Oct. 4, according to her termination letter from Hodgkins. The reasons he cited were because Locke didn’t show up to work on Sept. 26 “as scheduled,” and did not return to work until Oct. 2.

“That four-day work absence was not excused or granted,” Hodgkins wrote. “We have had numerous conversations and communications prior to you leaving on vacation in which I informed you, in no uncertain terms, that your request that your vacation time extend beyond September 25th was not approved and that you were required to report to work on the 26th.”

Locke said in January she was approved for all three weeks of vacation, but then Hodgkins reneged on his approval of her third week of vacation.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to be rude to you or anything, but I already bought my tickets,’” she recalled saying to Hodgkins, adding he helped her look for places to go on vacation, including Hawaii. “You know once you buy tickets, you can’t get your money back.”

Locke retained Norway attorney Alan Perry in March, who she said sent Hodgkins a letter informing him that Locke knew she had three weeks of vacation.

On Sept. 12, Locke left for her vacation. She said Hodgkins expected her back on Sept. 26, but she planned on returning on Oct. 2.

“’I told you right from the beginning I wasn’t going to be back because I already bought my tickets,’” she said about her conversation with Hodgkins.

Hodgkins disputed that, writing in his termination letter that during their last meeting before Locke departed she confirmed she would return on Sept. 26 and she later texted him while on vacation saying she would return Oct. 2.

He wrote that this is “something I had explicitly and repeatedly denied, both in person and in writing. You further did not respond to my return text to you telling you that you were required to return to work on September 26th, nor did you call or contact me thereafter. …”

“When I was on vacation my phone fell in the water so I couldn’t use it for a few days,” Locke said, noting in all of his texts to her, Hodgkins “he never said, ‘If you don’t come back you will be terminated.’”

In the letter, Hodgkins noted another employee informed her she was to return Sept. 26 and her job was in jeopardy if she did not.

Hodgkins sent Locke written notice on Sept. 27 after she “failed to return to work as required,” saying he was “contemplating disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.”

Locke said she thought she would return to work as scheduled on Oct. 2.

“I really thought he was going to reprimand me,” she said about Hodgkins. “The whole five years I worked here [there was] nothing in my personnel file.”

In his letter, Hodgkins wrote he met with Locke on Oct. 2 to explain her behavior.

“At that meeting, you provided me no information to justify your actions, although you were given a full opportunity to do so,” he wrote.

Locke said Hodgkins put her on administrative leave with pay on Oct. 2, and he wouldn’t answer her why.

On Oct. 4, Hodgkins penned her termination letter and sent it in regular and certified mail.

“Your actions represent a defection of duty, gross insubordination, willful misconduct, and overall have led me to have complete loss of trust and confidence in you,” he wrote. “I regret that your actions have required me to make this decision, but I simply will not allow any employee to act in such a manner, particularly one who holds a position of trust within the town.”

Locke noted she did not have anything in writing about her administrative leave, nor did she have anything “saying I was entitled to a selectmen’s executive session.”

“She had a hearing with me about the termination. She had the opportunity to grieve the process in front of the selectboard,” Hodgkins said by phone this week. He added weeks went by and when he didn’t hear anything, he reported the situation to the selectboard.

Locke said her lawyer would seek an executive session with selectmen. Perry, who was busy with a trial, could not be reached for comment.

After advertising for the open bookkeeper position, Hodgkins hired Dawn Waisanen, who started work Nov. 27 and is  paid $19 an hour.

Since her firing in Paris, Locke was hired by the town of Oxford.

“I think everything is done for a reason,” she said. I am much happier here in Oxford.”

eplace@sunmediagroup.net