PEF unity fuels protest against discrimination at the Office of Medicaid Inspector General
By DEBORAH A. MILES
It was a long time coming, festering year after year, incident after incident. Finally, the PEF members who work at the state Office of Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) took to the streets in Manhattan protesting discrimination, favoritism and cronyism.
On February 6, approximately 40 members marched and carried hand-made signs, and in a loud, unified voice chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, bigotry has got to go” and “Rosen has to go.” SEE VIDEO
Dennis Rosen is the top man at OMIG who has been accused of “racist behavior” and for creating a discriminatory and hostile work environment. He was appointed to the position in 2015, holds the title of inspector general, and is facing lawsuits from five employees.
Glendon Griffith is the council leader of PEF Division 191, and a New York City based investigator at OMIG. He had a case resolved against OMIG that began in 2014 and was completed in 2018.
“Discrimination, cronyism and favoritism are part of the fabric of this organization. There are nearly 100 PEF members who work here, and they share low morale,” Griffith said. “This organization prides itself on enforcing civil and administrative actions against individuals or entities that engage in fraud, abuse, illegal or inappropriate acts, or unacceptable practices. Yet the OMIG leaders engage in inappropriate acts and unacceptable practices.”
Some of the unacceptable practices include what has become a “normal” agency pattern for discriminative actions, such as not advancing a person of color with an impeccable work record who has remained at the same grade for 30 years.
“We want members to know that discrimination is something we do not have to tolerate whether it is age, race or gender. It is wrong and it must be corrected. We should not have leaders in this organization that practice discrimination. It has gone on far too long and needs to stop.”
Griffith, a native of Trinidad, claimed he was demoted from a supervisor’s job. Other plaintiffs have argued in court that they lost out on promotions because of their nationality. The four employees are a group of non-Italian ancestry, over the age of forty. One is a Russian immigrant, another was born in Puerto Rico, a third plaintiff is Jewish and the fourth is listed as a “white-Caucasian male of non-Italian ancestry.”
Part of the lawsuit centers on the former inspector general, Anna Coschignano, who retired in 2014, and had filled several positions with young people of Italian descent, setting off the favoritism bell among OMIG staff.
OMIG has also earned a reputation of hiring and promoting many retired federal law enforcement officers from agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Postal Service. That also has created hard feelings among staff, who have been overlooked for promotions, and who know many of the retired officers also collect federal pensions.
Another area of discrimination involves case investigations. Griffith said too many investigators are assigned to $75 cases of possible Medicaid fraud because they involve people of color who work as home health care aides, instead of pursuing white doctors and institutions that are milking the Medicaid system for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In 2014, OMIG employees in New York City picketed amid a flurry of at least seven labor grievances over alleged age and other discriminatory actions.
“It has been five years, and we are still fighting the same battles,” Griffith said. “This time we won’t be silenced. We are union strong and we will win.”