Of all the state’s cabinet positions, the Agency of Transportation is one of the friendlier posts for an ambitious politico. Everybody’s in favor of roads and highways, including conservative Republicans. A lot of your funding comes from the feds. You make friends with the generous donors in the construction business. You get to do a whole lot of high-profile announcements and ribbon-cuttings. You get to look strong and purposeful in times of trouble.
It’s unlikely that, say, Human Services would be a stepping stone to higher office. (Just ask Doug “Sacrificial Lamb” Racine.) But Transportation Secretary Sue Minter? She’s got high hopes for the governorship, or so it is said.
Which is not to say that trouble can’t erupt, seemingly out of nowhere. Dan D’Ambrosio of the Burlington Free Press:
Three former employees of the Vermont Agency of Transportation say they were verbally abused — and in one case physically abused — and passed over for promotions and pay raises because they are gay and lesbian.
Oopsie. The three, who all quit to get away from the abuse, have filed a discrimination lawsuit. The details are not pretty.
The plaintiffs say they had to endure a “very openly homophobic” working atmosphere. One recalls it as “the most painful period of my life.” Two suffered breakdowns; one remains unemployed months after her forced exit from AOT. And they say their supervisors did nothing to stop the abuse.
An agency official says that “VTrans is committed to providing equal opportunity… [and] we have zero tolerance for all forms of discrimination and harassment.”
High-minded sentiments from the front office, far away from the hurly-burly of a VTrans maintenance garage. A supervisor allegedly told one of the gay workers that AOT has a “redneck culture,” and he would just have to “deal.”
Nowhere in this article is Sue Minter quoted — or even mentioned. (D’Ambrosio has a quote from “Rich Tetreault, acting secretary of the Agency of Transportation.” Did I miss Minter’s resignation?) It’s obviously not her business to personally supervise the working culture of every AOT garage; but to have this kind of garbage happening in her agency on her watch? It’s not a good look. And it won’t help her win support in a potential Democratic primary.
At the very least, she’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.
Update: As one reader points out, the alleged discrimination took place before Minter was AOT Secretary. However, she was Deputy Secretary at the time, and she’ll need to show that steps have been taken under her leadership to end any discriminatory practices — and not just a reference to the grand language of official policy. Also, obviously, this would reflect badly on the Shumlin administration and its AOT functionaries. That would have more political impact if Shumlin wasn’t already on his way out.