CHP board to name interim CEO next week; complaint questions linger

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> Friday was the last day on the job for Bryan Ayars as chief executive officer for Community Health Programs.

But questions linger surrounding his departure, as well as the June dismissal of the human resources director, who has since filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

While the employee says she was fired for raising concerns with Ayars about alleged sexual harassment in the workplace, CHP maintains her dismissal was for poor job performance.

Ayars, who had been CEO since September 2009, will continue to assist the board in CHP's transition to a new management team through the end of this month.

"It will be easier for him not to be there on a day-to-day basis," said board President Jodi Rathbun-Briggs. "It's awkward. He's been extremely professional and cooperative and we don't expect anything less until the end of the month."

Ayars has not returned calls seeking comment.

CHP will name an interim CEO from an organization that specializes in "federally qualified health center turnarounds," Rathbun-Briggs said. An announcement is expected next week.

"This person will come in on a temporary basis, help us recruit a new CEO, then move on," she said.

The CHP board announced Ayars' departure on Tuesday amid concerns about the CHP leadership, including the complaint filed with MCAD.

Rathbun-Briggs told The Eagle that Ayars' departure was by "mutual agreement," and was not related to the discrimination complaint.

In the complaint, the former human resources director contends she was terminated after raising concerns with Ayars about what she perceived as potential sexual harassment in the workplace, according to her attorney, Michael Aleo of Northampton.

When Ayars did not respond to her concerns, Aleo said, his client planned to go to the board with the allegations, but was fired before she did so.

The woman is not alleging that she was the victim of harassment, Aleo said.

As HR director, Aleo said, she could have been held liable for failing to report anything that she perceived to be sexual harassment.

"If a human resources director can't provide information to any employer about potential sexual harassment," he said, "than nobody can be protected against it."

Aleo declined to comment on the reason his client was given for her dismissal.

But Rathbun-Briggs said the employee was let go because of concerns about her job performance.

"Last fall we started an intense board review process to investigate some of the issues that had been brought to our attention," Rathbun-Briggs said. It was during that process that it became known that the employee "couldn't be the human resources director because she was not effective in her job."

Asked to provide specifics, Rathbun-Briggs said she "was not trustworthy." She said the employee was undermining Ayars, and failed to meet CHP's contract deadlines.

"Those have to be done on time," she said. "They're a big part of our business. The deadlines were not being met."

"As a result of the internal review, the board decided that she couldn't stay in the human resources directors role," Rathbun-Briggs said. "They made that decision a month before she claims she complained to Bryan Ayars."

MCAD has acknowledged that the discrimination complaint has been filed, but a spokesman said state law prohibits the agency from discussing the specifics of an active case.

When a discrimination complaint against an employer is filed with MCAD, the next step is for the employer to file a response. The complainant is then allowed to respond to the employer's statement. It normally takes several months for a discrimination complaint to be resolved.

Regarding the sexual harassment complaints, "none of that was ever brought to our attention during the board review process," Rathbun-Briggs said. "It wasn't until her termination was in the works that she made it known to the board."

Rathbun-Briggs said CHP's board conducted a separate investigation of those allegations.

"Our investigation didn't prove an inappropriate relationship," she said.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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