The State Employees’ Review Board today heard arguments about whether the board has the authority to hold a hearing for a grievance filed by former state employee Kostantinos Diamantis alleging a hostile work environment and a mishandling of his request to rescind his resignation as Director of Construction Support Services of the Office of School Construction Grants and Review.
Diamantis was fired on October 28, 2021 from his position at the Office of Policy and Management pending an investigation into the hiring of his daughter Anastasia as administrative assistant to then-Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo. At the time, Colangelo was requesting raises for his department staff, according to reporting from the Connecticut Mirror. A federal investigation is also underway into Diamantis’ oversight of the State Pier project in New London and several school construction projects in his other role as head of the Office of School Construction Grants and Review.
According to a complaint made by Diamantis, then-secretary OPM Melissa McCaw informed him during a meeting on the 28th that he would be allowed to keep his other position as Director of Construction Support Services during the investigation, but that he would be placed on paid administrative leave. The same day, Diamantis submitted his resignation for the position, saying that he would resign on November 1, 2021. But three hours later, Diamantis asked to rescind his resignation, a request which was rejected the next day by Josh Geballe, then-Chief Operating Officer for the State of Connecticut.
During the hearing, Adam Garelick, an attorney with the state Office of Labor Relations, claimed that under Connecticut law the state had no obligation to reinstate someone who had already submitted a resignation, particularly if that resignation had not been submitted “in good standing.” Garelick said that Diamantis had not resigned in good standing, first because he was awaiting the possibility of disciplinary action against him, and second because he had failed to give the required two weeks notice for his resignation.
Garelick argued that Diamantis was “asking the [Employees’ Review Board] to overlook the fact that his resignation was an act entirely of his own volition.”
According to a letter from Geballe to Diamantis dated October 29, Geballe refused to allow Diamantis to return to his position because he “refused to meet to discuss the reasons” for his dismissal and placement on paid administrative leave. Geballe also referenced two text messages that Diamantis had sent Geballe and Mounds the night before, saying “liars will come forward/ RAcist too” and “I hate liars and racists.” Geballe referred to the messages as “inappropriate.”
But Zachary Reiland, attorney for Diamantis, argued that Geballe’s decision not to rescind the resignation was “arbitrary, capricious, malicious, retaliatory, without just cause and failed to comply with the requirements of state agencies, and also violated the complainant’s free speech.”
“For the state to say it’s Mr. Diamantis’ decision to retire, he did it of his own volition, that’s contrary to what Mr. Diamantis is claiming here,” said Reiland.
Reiland said that Geballe created a “hostile work environment” and that Diamantis “drew Geballe’s ire” when he spoke up against what the complaint terms as Geballe’s “openly hostile comments” and “unprofessional treatment” of McCaw.
The complaint goes on to claim that the Governor’s General Counsel and Chief of Staff opened a “baseless investigation” against Diamantis with the goal of getting him to resign.
Reiland also said that, based on a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Administrative Services and OPM that gave OPM “administrative and managerial” control over the Office of School Construction Grants and Review, Geballe should not have been the person deciding whether or not to rescind Diamantis’ resignation. Instead, he said, that decision should have rested with McCaw.
Garelick questioned why Diamantis had waited to bring his “wide-ranging allegations against the state” forward until after he was no longer employed with them.
“If Mr. Diamantis had believed that there was a violation of any sort of workplace rules … he could have filed a complaint with the [board] at any point. He didn’t. He waited until 30 days after he was removed from his appointment of deputy secretary and was placed on administrative leave,” said Garelick.
Garelick also noted that Diamantis had made claims of a hostile work environment and intolerable conditions “and yet 3 hours after that, he decided he wanted to rescind his resignation and go back into that work environment.”
He also argued that Diamantis did not have the ability to bring forward claims of a hostile work environment since he was no longer employed with the state. He pointed out that Diamantis has collected over $5,800 in pension benefits since he submitted his resignation.
“It’s a personal decision, and he made the decision,” said Garelick.
But Reiland argued that, even as a former employee, Diamantis had the right to bring forward these allegations.
“He was an employee when he was subject to the hostile work environment, he was an employee when he spoke up against the mistreatment of others, and he was an employee when he was pushed to the point of handing in his resignation three hours before attempting to rescind it,” said Reiland.
Reiland told board members that their role was not just to address employee grievances, but also hold the state accountable for its actions, and he said that as of now, the investigation had not unearthed any misconduct on the part of Diamantis. He also said that he felt the board not addressing Diamantis’ grievance could show other former employees, who may have similar grievances, that they had no recourse.
David Bednarz, spokesperson for Governor Ned Lamont’s Office, declined to comment, saying they would defer to the comments made by Garelick. Geballe, who left his job at the state in February and now works for Yale University, could not be reached for comment.
Victor Schoen, a member of the Employees’ Review Board, said that the board would not make a decision on the case today, but would issue one “within due time.”