Eileen Fitzgerald tried reporting what she saw as wrongful behavior at the Massachusetts State House.

That was in 2008. Last year, the Commonwealth paid Fitzgerald $225,000 to settle her lawsuit claiming that she was retaliated against, and ultimately fired, for blowing the whistle. 

The person central to her complaint remains on the public payroll.

This is not a story about sexual harassment, to add to those being unearthed by Yvonne Abraham of the Boston Globe. But, it provides a glimpse into a culture many political veterans consider retaliatory; protecting some, silencing or punishing others.

In this instance, it was during the tenure of State Senate President Therese Murray.

Fitzgerald worked in the Office of Senate Counsel, a small group of about 10 attorneys and staff who provide all manner of legal assistance to state senators—in her case, reviewing legislation and amendments for potential issues of constitutionality or conflict with other laws.

Technically independent—to provide services to all senators and their staff without prejudice—in practice the Senate President often exerts control over the office.

That was very much the case under Murray, several senators confirm.

Upon becoming President in early 2007, Murray appointed one of her advisors, Alice Moore, to be Senate Counsel.

The story I’m reporting begins a year later, in the fall of 2008.  That’s when Moore and another lawyer reporting to Moore, began picking on a physically disabled counsel’s office employee. “Picking on” is my own phrase, because that strikes me as the best way to characterize the conduct after reviewing court documents, Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) filings, and conducting interviews.

The employee in question was Bill Patch, who was then in his early 30s. Patch, as a college student at Northeastern, had lost parts of his feet and some use of his fingers to bacterial meningitis. Since 2000, he had worked as a page in the senate counsel office, mostly filing, delivering paperwork between offices and performing other simple tasks.

Patch, in MCAD filings, alleged that Moore repeatedly mistreated him, and complained about the amount of work he performed. Office colleagues backed up his claims, to MCAD, in other written complaints, and in interviews for this article. 

“Alice, she put him through hell,” Patch’s father, Charlie Patch, a Revere city councilor, told me recently.  Charlie Patch says that his son came home in tears a couple of times after Moore instructed him to perform physical tasks made difficult by his disability, requiring him to stand for long periods, manipulate documents, or lift heavy objects.

In one incident, attested to by Fitzgerald and others in pleadings and interviews, Moore made Patch move furniture; in another, Moore allegedly threatened to have him carry and scan a large collection of law books—requiring extensive walking, carrying heavy books, and manipulating thousands and thousands of pages—backing down only after other employees balked.

This is all a potential violation of state law requiring accommodation of employees with disabilities. But, important as that is, it is not the central part of this story.

The central issue, as I see it, is maintaining a free and fair system for employees who believe they are being harassed, bullied, or mistreated, or who believe they have witnessed such mistreatment of others.

As with sexual harassment claims, it is important that employees feel free to bring those types of complaints—particularly about their boss—to someone with the independence and authority to investigate the matter seriously, and confidentially. 

But in the State House, where political power, patronage, and the capacity for retribution create a web of interlocking relationships and co-dependencies, there is often at least the perception, if not the reality, that many people are protected and untouchable. Speak up against the wrong one, and you might pay the price. 

Fitzgerald, who had worked in the senate counsel office for 15 years, felt that it was her duty to alert Murray, and the director of senate personnel,of the situation with Patch, and the alleged abuse of another counsel office employee, Nina Johnson.

Johnson, Moore’s executive assistant for nearly a year at the time, was, according to Fitzgerald, being driven to ill health by what she saw as Moore’s overbearing style.

In a recent interview, Johnson, now a business analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, claims that Moore scapegoated her for everything that went wrong in the office, berated her for things that were not her responsibility, and left her in constant fear of being fired.

Fitzgerald thought she should speak up about what she believed was happening to Patch and Johnson. In fact, she and another attorney in the office believed that it was their mandated responsibility to do so—because, according to both, they had been so instructed in a training session conducted by the Senate personnel office.

So, Fitzgeraldâ and the other attorney delivered to Murray’s chief of staff a letter addressed to both Murray and the personnel director.

The letter briefly explained what they had witnessed, and warned of potential legal liability for failing to accommodate Patch’s physical limitations, and for “bullying” Patch and Johnson. In doing so, Fitzgerald was supposed to be legally insulated from retaliation by Massachusetts’s whistleblower protection law and by provisions in the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Nevertheless, several people directly involved tell me that it was immediately apparent to them that Moore would be protected—but that Fitzgerald and the employees she stuck up for would not.

An inquiry by the personnel director—who Johnson says was a friend of Moore’s—was seen as brief and perfunctory by those I spoke with.

Johnson says that she was immediately placed on a Personal Improvement Plan—a form of probation to determine whether she should be fired. 

“I was visibly upset every night,” Johnson tells me. “My husband was telling me to just quit.”

Johnson did, a month later, after finding a new job.

“This was my dream job, in the senate counsel's office. This was my career,” Johnson says. Instead, she was out after just a year. “My pension, everything—gone.”

Patch’s troubles also continued. He eventually filed a complaint with MCAD, which the Commonwealth later settled, without admitting any wrongdoing, moving Patch to a job in then-senator Anthony Petruccelli’s office.

Meanwhile, Moore allegedly turned her attention to Fitzgerald, who would later describe in her lawsuit what she termed an “insidious campaign of retaliation.”

Among other acts of retaliation alleged in Fitzgerald’s lawsuit, Moore had Fitzgerald’s desk moved to a space adjacent to the reception area. When Fitzgerald complained that it was too noisy to concentrate, Moore refused to let her relocate; when Fitzgerald elevated her complaint to the senate president, Moore relented—but also placed Fitzgerald on a Performance Improvement Plan.

When Fitzgerald requested a copy of her personnel file, in preparing her own MCAD complaint, she discovered that Moore and her deputy began, just six days after that letter was sent to Murray, to fill her personnel file with negative reports—hundreds of pages worth, many of which Fitzgerald claims were not shown to her when placed in the file as required by law. 

Prior to that, according to what Fitzgerald has documented, her file included just one negative job performance item in 15 years: a memo from Fitzgerald herself, explaining and apologizing for missing a couple of erroneous commas in a senate resolution. 

Fitzgerald filed her own MCAD complaint in June 2011, which she later withdrew in order to file her civil lawsuit. In early June 2012 she gave a written complaint to the director of the new senate human resources department, which had replaced the old senate personnel office.

Six weeks later, Moore fired her, citing poor performance. 

Fitzgerald filed a civil law suit in July 2014. By that time, Murray had made Moore her own Chief of Staff—a job that holds enormous influence over virtually everybody working at, or doing business with, the state legislature. 

Not only that, but Murray took the unprecedented step of leaving Moore in place as Senate Counsel while serving as Chief of Staff to the Senate President—a conflict, essentially ensuring that everything a senator might bring into the ostensibly independent Senate Counsel’s office—legal issues, personnel questions, drafts of legislation—was also being brought to the Senate President’s doorstep. Other senators considered it such an egregious conflict, upon Murray’s resignation they created a rule barring such an arrangement.

That’s not where the conflicts stopped. Fitzgerald’s law suit named Moore, one of her lawyers, the state senate, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was thus defended, on behalf of all parties, by the Commonwealth’s lawyer: the office of the Attorney General. 

At the time, that was Martha Coakley, who was in the thick of her campaign for Governor—a campaign whose finance chair was Therese Murray.

The senate had already been using an outside firm, Krokidas and Bluestein, to defend against Fitzgerald’s and Patch’s accusations. As the Boston Herald recently reported, the senate paid that firm more than $200,000 between 2012 and 2015. I have confirmed that much, if not all of that sum, was for work on the allegations against Moore.

By the following January, however, Coakley and Murray were both out of office. Coakley had lost her election, and Murray, term-limited out of the senate presidency, had resigned.

Within a couple of months, the Attorney General’s office, now led by Maura Healey, had agreed to settle the suit. It took until July 2016 to finalize that deal, with the state paying Fitzgerald $225,000, including her legal costs, without admitting wrongdoing. Although Fitzgerald says she did not sign a non-disclosure agreement as part of the deal, the Attorney General’s office – citing standard procedure – declined comment.

None of this appeared to have any repercussions for Moore.  

By the time of the settlement, Moore was serving as Gov. Charlie Baker’s Undersecretary for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; she was recently named Deputy Executive Vice Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Moore did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did Murray, who is now president and CEO of trade-promotion consultancy MassIgnite.

MassIgnite’s executive vice president Samantha Dallaire, who previously worked for Murray in the state senate, said in a statement: “The specific matter you are referring to was settled. I cannot comment further on personnel issues.”

Those involved in all this who did talk with me emphasize that their observations and concerns are specific to these events—that they don’t mean to implicate the current or past Special Counsels and Senate Presidents. Several said that the senate counsel office is well operated under its current leader, Jennifer G. Miller.

They also say that things were different under senate president Stan Rosenberg, who they say provided a more open and less retaliatory operation. That perception is now being put to the test, as Rosenberg faces allegations against his husband. Rosenberg has stepped down as Senate President during that investigation.

Fitzgerald’s story concerned very different behavior, at a different time and under different leaders.

It does, however, offer a window into State House culture. It may help explain why so few, still, have publicly come forward.

UPDATE: Alice Moore, an important figure in the story above, "is no longer employed by the medical school... as of last Thursday," according to Jennifer Barryman, vice chancellor communications for UMass Medical School.

Moore just started as Deputy Vice Chancellor at UMass Medical in October, after her hiring was announced in August. She was previously undersecretary of health in the Charlie Baker administration.

Citing confidentiality of personnel matters, Barryman would not comment on reasons for Moore's departure.