|Melissa George Bowman|
Melissa C. George, who worked in Riley's proclamations office, filed the complaint against communications director David Azbell, according to a report yesterday from Bill Britt at Alabama Political Reporter (APR). Ms. George since has married, and now is Melissa George Bowman.
The story presents a number of parallels to my own experience of being unlawfully terminated from my job as an editor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) in the midst of the Riley era.
The parallels emerge primarily from this fact that Bill Britt uncovered: Under a settlement agreement, Bowman was forced to leave her job, while Azbell quietly resigned. Azbell, however, has re-emerged as a communications consultant for Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard, bringing down a state salary of $8,000 per month. Azbell also is a partner in the Birmingham political-consulting firm Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross.
It looks like the victimizer came out better than the victim in this deal. Unfortunately, I've learned a thing or two about such office cheat jobs.
Melissa George Bowman now serves as public relations manager for the Alabama Hospital Association (AHA). This is from a 2012 AHA press release:
Prior to joining the Alabama Hospital Association, Melissa George Bowman was marketing director for Eastdale Mall. She was public relations director for the American Red Cross of Central Alabama and worked in the Alabama governor’s press office under two governors. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Alabama.
How this for irony? The words in bold indicate Bowman started her job in the governor's press office under Don Siegelman--and she was sexually harassed out of her job under Bob Riley.
Britt writes that rumors about Azbell and a sexual-harassment complaint have been floating around Montgomery for roughly a decade. The story now has moved beyond the rumor stage, with confirmation that a settlement was reached in 2003. Reports Britt:
The Alabama Political Reporter has obtained a copy of the Settlement Agreement in which the Riley administration offered a $53,000 pay-off to staffer Melissa C. George, an employee in Riley's proclamations office, to drop the threat of civil lawsuit, quit her state job and quietly go away. The Settlement Agreement, dated Dec. 17, 2003, was signed by Riley, Azbell and Riley's chief of staff, Toby Roth. It described Azbell as having "harassed" and "discriminated" against George. The document also states the neither Riley nor Roth were aware of Azbell's boorish behavior.
According to the settlement agreement, the State of Alabama paid $53,000 to George--with the stipulation that she leave her state job, but as part of the agreement Toby Roth was to write her a letter of recommendation on his official letterhead.
Based on my knowledge of employment law--and I have more experience with the subject than I ever wanted to have--it sounds like Melissa George Bowman settled for a low-ball figure, probably because she was under heavy pressure from seasoned politicians. That she was forced to leave her job says a lot about the way the Riley administration treated women in the workplace. In essence, Melissa Bowman was victimized twice--once by David Azbell and once by Bob Riley and Toby Roth.
No one involved with the case seems anxious to discuss it. Writes Britt:
Melissa George was contacted for this report but would only say she was not suppose to talk about it. However, there can be no valid confidentiality agreement when state dollars are used in such matters.
Telephone messages seeking comment were left for Azbell. He did not return the calls. George apparently provided the Riley administration with a lengthy written complaint documenting Azbell's alleged harassment. No records beyond the Settlement Agreement were found by the state archives. Roth refused to answer questions presented by the Alabama Political Reporter concerning the case. “It was the policy of the Riley administration to not comment on past employees,” he said.
Note the disingenuous tone of Roth's comment. Melissa George Bowman was not an employee of the Riley administration; she was an employee of the State of Alabama, and her settlement was paid with taxpayer dollars. Roth, Riley, and Azbell have obligations to answer questions about this matter. Riley himself should ensure that any related documents--internal memos, e-mails, etc.--are released to the public.
Feel free to hold your breath and turn blue while waiting for Bob Riley to reply to that question. Meanwhile, keep in mind that these are the Republicans who constantly assure us that they will be careful with our tax dollars.
The most vexing question is this: Why was Melissa George Bowman, having been harassed and victimized in the workplace, forced to leave her job? We don't know how long Bowman had worked for the state at the time of the settlement agreement. But even if she had just started, she would now have 10 years under her belt--and be vested in the state retirement system--if she had kept her job and chosen to stay with the state. Bowman likely gave up more than she received by agreeing to a deal with the Riley crowd. On the other hand, she probably is relieved to be away from that crowd.
I can identify with Bowman's plight, and I think I know why she was forced to leave her job. Regular readers know that I was cheated out of my job at UAB in May 2008--and I have tape-recorded evidence that proves I was targeted because of my reporting on this blog about the prosecution of Don Siegelman, Bob Riley's chief political rival.
Not only that, I was reporting truthfully on court-related corruption in Shelby County involving Pelham lawyer William E. Swatek. If that name sounds familiar, it's because his son, Dax Swatek, is a partner with David Azbell in the consulting firm referenced above. The Swateks are certified members of the Riley mafia, and my reporting was stepping on some delicate toes.
What probably sealed my fate at UAB was a post on March 13, 2008, about Rob Riley (Bob's lawyer son) and his apparent conflict of interest in connection with a federal lawsuit that grew out of the accounting scandal at Birmingham-based HealthSouth Corporation.
I did not break the story--that honor went to Sam Stein, of Huffington Post--but my reporting on it almost certainly was not welcome news to the Riley crowd. Here is the gist of that 2008 post:
We know that current Governor Bob Riley saw his path to re-election in 2006 become much more clear with Siegelman out of the way.
Now, thanks to the reporting of Sam Stein at The Huffington Post, we know the Riley family benefited in other ways. Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, son of the Republican governor, made a nice chunk of change from a civil matter that ran parallel to the Siegelman criminal case.
On January 13, 2005, Rob Riley suddenly was added as local counsel on a massive lawsuit against HealthSouth and its former CEO, Richard Scrushy. Riley represented the New Mexico State Investment Council, a relatively new player at the time in the HealthSouth litigation.
At the same time the civil case was unfolding, Scrushy was co-defendant in the Siegelman criminal case. And that, Stein reports, is how Rob Riley stood to gain financially.
Less than two months after those words were written, I was out of a job at a state institution. And Rob Riley, indeed, gained financially. As co-liaison counsel--with Doug Jones, of Birmingham's Haskell Slaughter firm--Riley took home a nice chunk of some $50 million in attorney fees awarded in the HealthSouth case.
Let's summarize: In spring 2008, I was writing in a supportive way about Bob Riley's chief political rival; I was reporting inconvenient truths about Riley-family crony Bill Swatek; and I probably was seen as a threat to Rob Riley's revenue stream.
Is it any wonder that UAB went to extraordinarily underhanded lengths to cheat me out of my job? Is it any wonder that I'm convinced someone connected to the Riley family made that happen?
That brings us back to Melissa George Bowman. Anyone with a sense of balance and fairness would have seen her as a victim, and they would have insisted that she not be penalized for reporting harassment. But the Riley crowd almost certainly includes any number of sociopaths--and such individuals lack any sense of balance or fairness.
Bowman's willingness to speak up about David Azbell made her a threat in Bob Riley's eyes. It meant she could not be trusted to keep her mouth shut about "family secrets." That meant she was a state employee who had to go--much the way I would later have to go at UAB.
Bill Britt's reporting on the Melissa George Bowman case speaks volumes about the Riley family's utter lack of ethics. It also says a lot about the paranoia that must be rampant among Riley insiders.