LOCKPORT – The state Labor Department is investigating whether Niagara County leaders broke a law when they allegedly denied sick time to a county Health Department worker last year, a move that she estimates cost her $12,000.
Holly D’Angelo, an assistant public health engineer, said she thinks the state’s law protecting “whistle-blowers,” people who complain about violations by superiors, was broken.
“There is litigation pending on this personnel matter,” county Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes said. “She has filed a complaint, and we’re in the process of responding to it.”
D’Angelo said she was without pay for about three months after breaking her foot, which did not occur on the job. She said she had already exhausted her allotment of paid sick time because of two previous hospitalizations and another broken foot in 2009.
D’Angelo, who earns about $42,000 a year, said last week she thinks she was targeted for retaliation because of her actions Jan. 31, 2013, a day when the water supply was cut off to the Shaw Building, where the Health and Mental Health departments are headquartered. It’s located on the Mount View campus off Upper Mountain Road in Lockport.
D’Angelo said she “used my ‘Norma Rae’ skills,” referring to a Sally Field movie about a union activist.
There was a broken pipe flooding the boiler room of the old Mount View Health Facility, the county nursing home that closed in 2007 and was sold last year.
The Buffalo News reported at the time of the leak that the Town of Lockport Water Department decided that the only way to repair the pipe was to turn off the water service to the Mount View campus, including the Shaw Building.
D’Angelo, a member of the Civil Service Employees Association, said she demanded that the Shaw Building be evacuated because of the lack of water for fire protection and sanitation. She also referred the situation to a Labor Department inspector for its Public Employee Safety and Health unit, or PESH.
She said PESH eventually determined, months later, that no violation by the county had occurred because of the fact that the building had been evacuated, something D’Angelo contends wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t raised her voice.
The Labor Department did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
D’Angelo said colleagues in the Health Department were willing to donate some of their own unused sick time to help her out after the latest broken foot, but she charged that Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton sat on the request.
She said that wasn’t the same way Stapleton and other county leaders treated another person in the Health Department who ran out of sick days. D’Angelo said a colleague was diagnosed with cancer last year and colleagues pooled unused sick days to donate to her.
She said Stapleton and Lopes approved that donation, and County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz signed off on it.
Through a secretary, Stapleton declined to be interviewed; Glatz did not return a call seeking comment; and Lopes said he wouldn’t answer questions about the incident.
“It took seven months for these labor lawyers to decide it’s worth investigating,” D’Angelo said.
She reserved most of her scorn for Stapleton, claiming that if she hadn’t forced the evacuation of the Shaw Building, the Health Department “would have been in violation of their own sanitary code.”
“I saved his butt, and what does he do to me?” D’Angelo asked. “They have to start taking care of their employees. For trying to do the right thing, I’ve been decimated.”