Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

June 11, 2013

Northern Lakes 'whistle blower' settlement: $510,000

TRAVERSE CITY— Northern Lakes Community Mental Health has agreed to a $510,000 legal settlement with a whistle blower who lost his job after exposing inadequate supervision of the disabled on area buses.

Jonathan Bennett, former director of Northern Lakes' Office of Recipient Rights, filed suit against the agency in December 2012, claiming he was fired for exposing inadequate supervision of disabled CMH clients.

Bennett's lawsuit was settled May 30. The Record-Eagle confirmed the $510,000 settlement amount Monday through an open records request.

“The settlement was amicable,” Bennett said. “We are happy with the results.”

Greg Paffhouse, chief executive officer of Northern Lakes CMH, received a written reprimand by the agency's board of directors following a state investigation. Paffhouse said Monday the lawsuit was "amicably" resolved in the best interest of all parties.

Both sides of the dispute said the mediated agreement limited their public comments on the matter. The agency's insurer, Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority, will pay $353,651 to Bennett and $156,348 to Jay Zelenock, his attorney.

Bennett was dismissed in October 2012. He claimed the agency harassed and retaliated against him after his investigation showed assaults, sexual misconduct, and self-harm among unsupervised CMH clients that rode Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) buses. The buses are contracted by CMH to take clients to and from training and work sites.

Paffhouse said in an earlier interview that Bennett’s investigation played no role in the firing. He said there were already longstanding and deep conflicts between Bennett and staff. Those conflicts compromised the staff's ability to do their jobs.

Bennett, fired after 15 years on the job, was responsible for protecting the rights of clients served by the six-county agency —a staff "watchdog" of sorts.

Bennett learned in August of 2011 of a serious assault on a profoundly mentally disabled woman. Another disabled male rider struck her more than 100 times, grabbed the stump of her amputated arm and choked her over a period of 90 minutes. She couldn't cry out for help because she is unable to functionally speak.

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