Mike Miller was once described by his boss as a "rising star" at CUNA Inc., "destined to run it all."
That was before Miller complained about his Madison-based supervisor, John Franklin, for making racist, sexist and homophobic remarks. This Miller did in April 2004; that September, he was abruptly fired. (CUNA Inc. is a trade association for credit unions, distinct from CUNA Mutual, its insurance offshoot.)
At the time, Miller was CUNA's senior vice president for association services; he supervised half its roughly 200 Madison employees and made $153,000 a year. Since then, he's been out of work, except for a few consulting stints.
That's ironic, given that the person who's taken the most extensive look at the facts has determined that Miller was wrongfully terminated for doing the right thing.
In May, after reviewing hundreds of pages of filings and sitting through 15 days of testimony, a hearing examiner for the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission ruled in Miller's favor. Clifford Blackwell, in a 39-page decision, awarded Miller $75,000 for "emotional distress," as well as compensation for lost past and future wages. A hearing is set next month on how much he's owed, likely more than a million dollars.
Blackwell's "findings of fact" contain several eye-popping tidbits about Franklin, still chief operating officer of CUNA in Madison. Among them, that Franklin:
- Referred to customer-service duties as "nigger work" and once expressed his view that "black people generally are not very smart."
- Wrote an email to a female employee saying: "Put out your tongue and you'll get a big surprise."
- Told a story about a sales staff being upbraided, "You guys couldn't sell pussy on a troop train."
- Urged Miller, in Blackwell's words, "to pursue sexual relations with current or prospective CUNA board members as well as business contacts."
- Remarked to a fellow CUNA official that "they don't make [credit union] league presidents like they used to," referring to a league president who is openly gay.
- Made, again according to Blackwell's perhaps euphemistic phrasing, "additional sexist comments in the presence of [another CUNA official] regarding a desire for sexual contact with local high school girls."
In his EOC hearing testimony, Franklin conceded saying certain things, like the troop-train crack. But he claimed to not remember other comments. As for whether he said "nigger," he stated, "I have tried very hard not to use that word." After Miller complained, the decision says, Franklin issued a vague apology to CUNA staff.
Patrick Keefe, a CUNA spokesman in Washington, D.C., doesn't have "a whole lot to say" about the situation: "The hearing examiner has reviewed these things and said, 'These are the facts.'"
But Keefe stresses that "CUNA does not discriminate. That's what we've said from the beginning, and we continue to say that." CUNA recently filed a notice of its intent to appeal the EOC's decision, but Blackwell said it must wait until the compensation issues are resolved.
In its pleadings and testimony, CUNA pegged Miller as embittered because he lost out to Franklin in 2003 for the association's top Madison job. But Blackwell rejected this interpretation, saying nothing in the record showed Miller would have been fired "absent [his] complaints about Franklin's comments, conduct and statements."
Although he was disappointed about not being promoted, Miller worked cooperatively and performed well, the decision said. "The single most obvious method in which [Miller] might have demonstrated himself not to be a team player," wrote Blackwell, "was his willingness to report [another exec] and Franklin for conduct that may well have violated the [EOC] ordinance and other laws."
Blackwell also noted that CUNA "appears to be a workplace with an unusually high level of internal fighting and personality conflicts. It is clearly a workplace that rewards loyalty and seems to punish those who are no longer in favor."
Miller, 47, says CUNA has defamed him internally and to others as "disgruntled, disloyal and disruptive" and "interfered with business relationships I've tried to form." He notes that CUNA executives sit on the board on all four major local credit unions. "I'm done," says Miller of the career to which he gave two decades of his life.
"Mike Miller is radioactive in the credit union field," agrees his attorney, Michael Fox. "He will never get back into credit unions or related groups."
Franklin, meanwhile, remains a valued CUNA employee.
Say what you will about Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, she sure is a great boss.
When 911 Center director Joe Norwick lied to the press about Brittany Zimmermann's botched 911 call, she backed him up. And now she's standing firm behind Corporation Council Marcia MacKenzie, who Falk says has "spent probably hundreds of hours gathering the material that your paper and others have rightfully asked for."
MacKenzie's demand that media requesters pay $2,300 before the county will locate records of complaints against the 911 Center was ripped in Isthmus by media advocate Peter Fox, a former state official, who says that if county officials don't already have these records in hand, "they all deserve to be discharged." And Capt. Carl Gloede, the head records guy for the Madison police, told the Wisconsin State Journal his department is "dumbfounded" by the county's response.
Falk says the $2,300 represented "a worst-case scenario" - the absolute most the task would take. Apprised that MacKenzie's letter says no such thing, but rather demands a check for $2,366.70 for 70 hours of searching at $33.81 an hour, Falks demurs, "I wasn't part of that letter."
She suggests the media agree to pay for maybe five hours of searching (of the estimated 70 needed) to see what turns up. Yeah, that or just point out that the county is obviously engaged in a deliberate cover-up.
Not his fault
A Madison police officer who caused a four-car accident that involved a serious injury is contesting the $109 citation he received for "following too close," according to Madison's Municipal Court.
Officer Justin T. Adsit was driving a police SUV on June 27 when he smashed into the back of Ashley Glassburn's car, which was stopped in traffic on John Nolen Drive behind a stalled car. The impact caused a chain reaction in which two more stopped cars were hit.
Glassburn, 23, who was not driving, says about a dozen police officers arrived on the scene; they refused to say which officer caused the accident or provide insurance information.
"They were horrible," she relates. "They never asked if we were okay, never apologized." It took more than a month to get what she feels is inadequate restitution for her totaled vehicle.
A second passenger, in Glassburn's back seat, was taken by ambulance to the hospital with back and neck injuries. Glassburn says the young woman was on leave from the military, about to be deployed in Iraq; now she's facing a possible medical discharge.
A preliminary hearing on Adsit's contested citation is set for Sept. 2.
According to the 2008 Answer Book published last week by Capital Newspapers Inc., Madison occupies 69 square miles of land. Actually, as the Almanac in this week's Isthmus' Annual Manual relates, the city's land total rounds off to 77 square miles.
Hmmm, how might the folks at Cap Newspapers, publisher of 77 Square, a weekly remnant of the now-defunct Capital Times daily newspaper, have been tipped off as to the correct amount?