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MT Dept of Labor ending contract with Billings-based nonprofit after sex-discrimination ruling

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Posted at 10:03 AM, Dec 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-09 12:03:37-05

BILLINGS—The Montana Department of Labor announced it will discontinue its contract with a Billings-based nonprofit organization that helps to rehabilitate Montana’s healthcare workers suffering from addiction and substance abuse.

The announcement came after a late October ruling where a Montana Human Rights Bureau investigator said there was reasonable cause to believe that the Montana Assistance Professional Association’s longtime executive director Mike Ramirez used sex discrimination and retaliation against three former female employees of the program.

The investigation began in March when former employees Meg McGauley, Amber Roane, and Cecilia Zinnikas filed dozens of pages of allegations about their boss's inappropriate offensive and gender-based preferential behavior.

Now, starting Jan.1, 2022, the Department of Labor will shift the medical assistance program internally in lieu of a contracted service provider, according to the letter.

Read the letter here.

For several years, the state has contracted with MPAP for services. Those with the department say they anticipate a smooth transition, maintaining assistance for licensees, protection of the public, and efficient use of board resources. The letter also promises board members to provide comprehensive monitoring reports to each board.

The plaintiffs in this case told MTN News Wednesday that hearing news that the contract has ended feels surreal.

“We’re very pleased to hear that the state has moved away from Mr. Ramirez and the behavior he has displayed. This is a really big step to ensure the medical workers can receive the type of fair and professional care they deserve,” said Zinnikas.

The women said in their complaint to the human rights bureau that Ramirez used underlying discrimination and belittling based on their gender, and investigator Barry Ivanoff agreed, writing in his ruling that the harassment toward the women was so severe it created an abusive working environment.

McGauley started her work as MPAP’s clinical coordinator in 2017. By January of 2021, she was fired by Ramirez.

McGauley asserts in the investigation she was fired from her position for speaking out against Ramirez to the MPAP board of directors after instances of what she says was blatant sex discrimination, among other things.

"The retaliation was clear that after we brought up, you know, the complaints with the board of directors about his discriminatory and abusive behavior," McGauley previously told MTN News

All of the women ultimately lost their jobs.

The women assert that the program’s participants were also in a place to be victimized by Ramirez.

McGauley previously told MTN News that in a time when healthcare professionals are valued during a deadly pandemic, even they suffer from the same conditions as everybody else and deserve a safe place to go for help.

Now that place will not be the Montana Professional Assistance Program, but the state is assuring board members participants will be taken care of.

In the letter, Business Standards Division Administrator Todd Younkin also said an internal program will allow for more direct monitoring of participant progress in concern t with the board’s adjudicative process.

Also, that department compliance specialists will handle monitoring while clinical professionals, working independently from the department, handle all evaluation and treatment processes directly with the participant.

The letter doesn’t address the ruling against Ramirez specifically. Back in July, officials with the Department of Labor told MTN News they were aware of the allegations against Ramirez. At that time, they decided to renew their contract with MPAP for an additional six months.

MTN News reached out repeatedly to Ramirez and his legal representation, Billings-based attorney Calvin Stacey, for comment. At one point in May, Ramirez was reached on the phone and directed MTN News to his attorney. Neither has returned phone calls or emails requesting comment on the investigation and ruling.