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State Employee John Howe Cleared After State Investigation

A longtime state employee placed on administrative leave earlier this year for alleged workplace violations has been cleared of any significant wrongdoing.

John Howe, a counselor at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, became a cause celebre in the world of organized labor after he went public with the disciplinary charges filed against him by his superiors. Howe said the charges – they included allowing a non-state-employee to sign off on expenditures of state funds – were manufactured as retaliation against public testimony in which he criticized management at the Department for Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living.

While the decision from the Department of Human Resources didn’t absolve Howe entirely, it said the state policy he’d allegedly violated “has been neither clearly conveyed to DAIL employees nor routinely enforced.”

“The Department therefore found no basis to discipline Howe for this conduct, even though it did not meet DAIL’s policy,” the state said in a press release.

Union signs proclaiming “We Are All John Howe” began popping up in yards and public spaces around the state since news of disciplinary action against Howe went public. The case prompted a campaign from the Vermont State Employees Association, which said management retaliation of the sort alleged by Howe is an enduring problem in state government.  

In a written statement, VSEA Executive Director Mark Mitchell said the state’s decision vindicates Howe.

“As VSEA and John have contended for months, there was never a valid reason to subject John to an investigation in the first place, and today’s finding solidifies our long-held contention,” Mitchell said.

While the state says that the case against Howe was based on legitimate concerns – not on his critical testimony before legislators – Mitchell said the union isn’t convinced.

“VSEA continues to believe there was a pattern of management retaliation in play here against John, but we understand the damaging political reality of DHR actually acknowledging that fact, especially when tied to an investigation that was as high profile as John’s,” Mitchell said in a release. “VSEA thanks John for his courage to fight the allegations made against him and put his face to the larger issue of management retaliation against state employees. Thanks to VSEA’s ‘We Are All John Howe’ campaign, more Vermonters than ever now understand that something needs to be done at the highest levels of government to address management retaliation.”

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