ABC whistleblowers expose working conditions

ABC whistleblowers expose working conditions
(Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Martese Johnson case is just one of several, high profile cases that have given Virginia's ABC a black eye recently. Several current and former ABC employees at the Richmond headquarters called NBC12 to say what they endure each day at work is equally disturbing.

St. Patrick's Day, when people of legal age were in the bars, 20-year-old University of Virginia honors student Martese Johnson could be seen bloodied in the street following his confrontation with ABC agents. The picture of Johnson on the curb outside a Charlottesville pub would be on the front page of newspapers all around the country. The agents arrested Johnson on charges of intoxication, swearing - and obstruction of justice.

Also in Charlottesville, another UVA student, Beth Daly, found herself at the wheel of a car, surrounded by men with their guns drawn. Since the men were not in uniform, the Henrico girl was frightened for her life and fled, unaware those men were ABC agents. The agents apparently suspected she was underage, and spotted her purchasing beer -- or so they thought. It was really just bottled water. She too was charged, but those charges were dropped and Daly settled with the agency for more than $200,000

As alarming as those incidents are, some former and current civilian employees at ABC headquarters in Richmond say life for them is equally stressful. They have complaints about an office culture that revolves around intimidation, sexual harassment and even threats of violence.

One current employee – we'll call her Mary – has been repeatedly cited for failure to keep up with her work. She says her supervisor readily admits that she's expected to do more paperwork than can be reasonably accomplished within the confines of her 40-hour work week. That's why people of her pay grade are offered generous amounts of overtime to get the work done. But for her, that's not an option.

"Every single day, I'm terrified to go to work. I'm sick every day. I cry my way into work. I don't sleep at night. I'm on medications that I've never been on before, and I'm not the only one," Mary said.

And if this was an isolated case, maybe you could chalk it up to sour grapes. But several other former and current ABC employees came forward with similar complaints. A woman we'll call Jane was suspended, and accused of stealing $120 from a cash drawer.

Jane says it was a witch hunt.

"I told him I would do a drug test and a polygraph test. He told me okay, they were going to have to contact the Richmond police and they'd be in touch with me," she said. "The next contact I got was to come back to work, the investigation was done."

Both women had the same supervisor -- a longtime ABC agent. Jane said ABC's internal investigation cleared her, but on her first day back after suspension she claims she was called into the office for an intimidating pep talk from her boss. The boss allegedly said, "I'm glad your back, but…"

"But," Jane continued recounting her boss's words, "If I definitely find out that you stole that money, I'll slam you on this desk and handcuff you myself."

And remember how Mary couldn't keep up with her work? She claims a male supervisor also offered to make all of her interoffice troubles go away in return for sexual favors. "This individual felt entitled to do what he was regularly doing, and I regularly told this individual it was definitely inappropriate," she said.

A request made to the ABC to interview the special agent in question were denied. As for the allegations made by these women, ABC communications director Becky Gettings sent a statement:

WWBT asked Virginia ABC to comment on two anonymous complaints brought to the station's attention. There is no record of any complaints as outlined being filed with the agency. When any such complaints are filed, the agency undertakes a complete and thorough investigation of the matters alleged. Virginia ABC is prohibited by state law from disclosing personnel records, however, the individual who is the subject of the personnel record may waive such protections and share their records with whomever they choose.

While ABC can't find any grievances on file, Mary insists that it can't be true.

A copy of the complaint given to NBC12 is dated February 20, 2015, and addresses all of the complaints in her performance review, answering point by point, outlining her childcare situation and contesting that she hasn't been able to perform assigned work or otherwise comply with establishing written policy. Mary said she gave copies of this grievance to her supervisor, Human Resources and even an ABC commissioner.

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