Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//February 18, 2015
//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
//February 18, 2015
A one-time legal secretary has sued her former employer for allegedly firing her after she refused to take a polygraph test to prove she did not steal $1,600 from the office in November.
Sarah Thompson claims she was told she would be reinstated only if she took the polygraph at the request of Jason C. Buckel, managing partner of Buckel, Levasseur & Pillai LLC in Cumberland and a freshman Republican in the House of Delegates.
Maryland law prohibits an employer from “requiring or demanding” a polygraph as a condition of employment, prospective employment or continued employment.
“It could have been handled very differently,” said Andrew Dansicker, Thompson’s lawyer. “She’s an at-will employee. … Employers fire employees all the time because of suspicion of theft.”
Buckel, however, said Thompson agreed to take a polygraph test when first asked about it and that he did not personally fire her. If she was fired, he added, it was because of poor work performance.
“We feel very confident we didn’t do anything wrong,” Buckel said Wednesday from his office in Annapolis. “We were simply trying to investigate an office theft.”
Thompson had been at Buckel Levasseur for less than two months when the theft occurred, Buckel said.
It was the day before Thanksgiving, he said, and Thompson and the other office secretary were in the office all day.
An attorney noticed that money was missing from his private office, and the other secretary told him that a client had dropped off a payment that had also gone missing, Buckel said. Both secretaries denied taking the money.
A Cumberland police officer, after interviewing each of the women, recommended Buckel give them polygraph tests.
Buckel said if the test had showed either woman were lying, he would have fired them but not pressed charges.
“You can’t work with someone when there is some legitimate suspicion you can’t trust them with money,” he said.
Police have not made any arrests in connection with the theft, and the firm has written off the money as a “business loss,” Buckel added.
Thompson alleges she received a phone call from Buckel Levasseur on Dec. 1 saying she needed to take a polygraph test if she wanted to continue working at the firm, according to her lawsuit, filed Friday in Maryland District Court in Allegany County.
Thompson asked for written notice, required under federal law, ordering her to take the polygraph test, according to her lawsuit. Buckel responded that he had mailed the notice and that “she must take a polygraph test if she wanted to keep her job,” the complaint says.
Buckel, in an interview, said he provided Thompson with written notice but did not threaten her with her job.
Dansicker, whose eponymous Hunt Valley firm handles employment discrimination cases, said he’s received thousands of calls about other employment actions — but Thompson’s is only the second about a polygraph test.
“Of all employers, this is a law firm,” he said.
Thompson’s lawsuit seeks at least $8,000 for wages she claims were unpaid for her last two weeks at work and at least $20,000 for wrongful termination. Dansicker said his client suffered emotional distress because she could not afford Christmas presents for her son and had to ask family members to help pay her bills.
Buckel said the firm had wanted to wait until after the holidays to let Thompson go due to her performance.
“The general consensus among the firm was that she wasn’t working out,” said Buckel, noting that Thompson had no experience as a legal secretary. “She was someone we gave a chance to.”
A trial has been scheduled for May 6, according to online court records.
The case is Sarah Thompson v. Buckel, Levasseur & Pillai LLC, et al., 120100001572015.i