The attorney for Kosta Diamantis, the former state official who was fired from one position and resigned from another last year, argued Monday that the governor’s top lieutenants created an unbearable working environment for him and “set a trap” that forced him to retire rather than fight an investigation into the school construction grant program that he oversaw.
“Mr. Diamantis is claiming that he was constructively fired from his position because a situation was created in which his working conditions were so confrontational, so unbearable,” Attorney Zach Reiland said during a teleconference hearing before the Employee Review Board Monday morning.
“The trap was set and they got what they wanted, which was him to retire and then for them to be able to shut him out by claiming he no longer has recompense to this board. They shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” Reiland said.
The hearing lasted nearly two hours, but there was no resolution of the central issue: whether the board has jurisdiction to hold a hearing on Diamantis’ grievance.
The board was unable to act Monday because only two of the board’s five members were present, and three are needed to vote. Board member Victor Schoen said a third board member will review the transcripts from Monday’s hearing so they can quickly make a ruling on whether to hold a full hearing with witnesses.
On Oct. 28, Gov. Ned Lamont removed Diamantis from his appointed position as undersecretary at the Office of Policy and Management and suspended him with pay from his position as the director of the Office of School Construction Grants and Review, a classified job with civil service protections.
The move came shortly after reports surfaced that Diamantis’ daughter had gotten a job at then-Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo’s office at the same time that Colangelo was seeking Diamantis’ help in getting raises for himself and other state’s attorneys. A federal investigation into the school grant program was also underway.
Rather than accept the suspension, Diamantis retired.
Within hours of retiring, Diamantis tried to rescind his retirement, only to have then-DAS Commissioner Josh Geballe deny it because he had resigned “not in good standing.”
Attorney Adam Garelick of the Office of Labor Relations argued that Diamantis wasn’t fired but resigned voluntarily and left the state as an “employee not in good standing,” and therefore his complaint is groundless.
“Mr. Diamantis wasn’t demoted. He was not suspended, and he was not dismissed. He was placed on paid administrative leave pending investigation. He has not been aggrieved as a result of alleged unlawful discrimination. He chose to resign immediately. That was his decision. In fact, he had been noticed that he could remain on the payroll on paid administrative leave,” Garelick said.
Garelick also said that the state denies all of Diamantis’ allegations of racial discord within the administration or that anyone made his work place “unbearable.”
“If Mr. Diamantis had believed that there was a violation of any sort of workplace rules or regulations or statutes, he could have filed a complaint with the Employee Review Board at any point, and he didn’t,” Garelick said. “Instead, he waited until 30 days after he was removed from his appointment as deputy secretary and placed on paid administrative leave.”
The grievance also states that Geballe refused to rescind the retirement because of Diamantis’ “unprofessional conduct,” specifically citing two “inappropriate text messages” Diamantis sent on the evening of Oct. 28. The first, to Mounds, read, “I’m coming / The truth is coming / Liars will come forward / Racists too.”
Minutes later, he sent a text to Geballe that read: “I hate liars and racists.”
One of Diamantis’ key arguments is that Geballe wasn’t the proper person to rule on whether to rescind the resignation because he technically wasn’t his boss under a memorandum of understanding that moved the entire school construction program to OPM a few years earlier.
“In fact, when his resignation was tendered, it was tendered to [OPM] Secretary [Melissa] McCall, and I believe the regulations say that a resignation shall be tendered to the appointing authority,” Reiland said. “Apparently, Melissa McCall was the appointing authority when his resignation was tendered, but not … three hours later when he attempted to rescind that resignation?”
Documents obtained by the CT Mirror show that Diamantis’ grievance had already been denied in two other closed sessions, before a DAS human resources officer and an arbitrator.
The Employee Review Board is his last outlet under his state contract.
In his grievance, Diamantis alleges that Geballe and Mounds held a grudge against him for speaking out about the way they and other commissioners treated McCaw. (Geballe’s mother, Shelley Geballe, a lawyer and professor of public health at Yale, is a founding board member of the nonprofit Connecticut News Project Inc., operator of CTMirror.org.)
Diamantis describes secretly listening, at McCaw’s request, to Zoom meetings with other commissioners and state officials so he could “witness the treatment she was receiving.”
The grievance describes another Zoom meeting among state commissioners where McCaw addressed an unnamed commissioner’s “abusive and disrespectful behavior toward the Secretary” and charged it “was rooted in racial discrimination/animus.”
Diamantis’ initial complaint goes into detail about his last day as a state employee — Oct. 28, 2021.
Diamantis said he was at the UConn Health Center with his gravely ill mother when McCaw called and asked him to come to her office. When he arrived, McCaw informed him that he was immediately terminated from his appointed position as OPM’s deputy secretary and that he was being placed on paid administrative leave from his classified position as director of the Office of School Construction Grants pending an internal investigation.
Diamantis had held the dual positions for nearly two years.
McCaw told him that the misconduct investigation pertained to his daughter’s hiring as an executive assistant to the Chief State’s Attorney and that it was an “improper quid pro quo” arrangement, in which the Chief State’s Attorney would receive approval of a beneficial salary action by OPM and his daughter would receive the executive assistant position. Diamantis claims the combination of his mother’s illness, the accusations made against him and his potential termination left him distraught and emotionally compromised.
An hour later, he met with OPM’s human resources officer to discuss which retirement benefits and possible payouts he would be owed depending on whether he retired or was fired.
At the same time Diamantis was reviewing his retirement papers, he received a letter from Lamont informing him he was relieved of his appointment at OPM. Diamantis then signed a letter of resignation and his retirement papers, according to the complaint.
The grievance said the decision to resign “cannot be separated from the surrounding circumstances. He was distraught, confused and overwhelmed by the fact that his 25 years of public service had inexplicably unraveled in less than two hours.”
Three hours later, Diamantis asked OPM’s human resource director if he could rescind his resignation and submitted a letter to OPM officials asking to do so.
The next day, OPM officials asked Diamantis to come to headquarters and sign more documents, even though he was trying to rescind his resignation, the grievance states. But that same day, Geballe denied his request to rescind his resignation, claiming that under state statutes Diamantis was not an “employee in good standing” and therefore wouldn’t be rehired.
In February, the existence of a federal investigation into the state school construction grant program was revealed. It began shortly before Diamantis was fired.
Diamantis had overseen the distribution of more than a billion dollars in school construction grants, and the federal grand jury subpoenas were exploring how some of those contracts were awarded — particularly construction management contracts that went to a company that hired his daughter part-time as they were getting state work.