The Investigator | County whistleblower claims health board retaliated

Geauga County Health Commissioner Robert Weisdack has not commented on the lawsuit.

The former fiscal coordinator for the Geauga County Health District says she was retaliated against after raising concerns of potential improprieties involving her boss.

Rebecca Buddenberg makes the allegations in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. She’s seeking back and front pay and other unspecified damages from the health district board and Commissioner Robert Weisdack, the target of her whistleblowing allegations.

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Buddenberg was hired in February 2015. The suit alleges Weisdack “spearheaded a vindictive and retaliatory conspiracy to drive [Buddenberg] out of her position, creating such intolerable conditions that she had no choice but to resign.”

Weisdack has not commented on the lawsuit.

County Prosecutor James Flaiz, whose office will defend the lawsuit, said the allegations have never been brought to his attention. However, he said, the claims are “very serious” and he intends to have an investigator from the office’s criminal division review the allegations lodged in the lawsuit.

Among the allegations Buddenberg alleged were Weisdack’s paying a male worker more than a female worker doing to same job and his “self-dealing” of a county contract in which he and other county workers performed a tire cleanup for extra pay.

"Her concern was [Weisdack’s] self-dealing. He wasn't following proper procedure and he hadn't got proper authorization," said Subodh Chandra, a Cleveland attorney representing Buddenberg.

She also alleged Weisdack “yelled, threatened, intimidated and ignored” the staff. He also ignored, the suit alleges, a recommendation to use GPS to track staff to ensure they were working. The idea, suggested by Buddenberg, was eventually deployed to nab two workers who went to parks instead of inspection sites. The workers were indicted for theft in office.

In addition, the suit alleged Weisdack retaliated against Buddenberg and a co-worker who was fired for also “bringing this wrongdoing to light.”

After learning of the pay disparity and questionable contract, Buddenberg contacted board members in the fall of 2016 and expressed concern of potential retaliation for coming forward, the lawsuit says. However, board members assured Buddenberg that they would protect her.

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That protection failed to materialize, the suit alleges. Instead, the board sided with Weisdack, later renewing his contract and essentially empowering him to retaliate.

"She repeatedly complained about retaliation in emails over and over and over but the board members blew it off," Chandra said.

After complaining to the health board, Weisdack within two days changed Buddenberg’s work schedule, forcing her to drop her college classes and make other arrangements for providing care for her cancer-stricken grandchild, the suit alleges.

Weisdack also aligned other workers to shun Buddenberg. When she complained to the board of retaliation, and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she was suspended for three days, demoted to a clerical position and her $19.75-an-hour pay was cut nearly in half, the suit alleges.

“Rather than discipline Mr. Weisdack for his discriminatory and retaliatory conduct, the [health board] rewarded him,” the suit alleges. “In doing so, the board made it clear it was siding with [Weisdack] despite his extensive and documented misconduct.”