Forensic Mortuary Technicians at the city’s Chief Medical Examiner’s Office claim that officials there bypassed promotion rules to elevate one employee to a managerial role even though several of them were suitable for the post.
They allege that the OCME’s Deputy Commissioner, Frank DePaolo, and its Director, Vincent Ruggiero, had some time ago decided to groom the candidate for a promotion by granting her training opportunities, favorable shifts during the height of the pandemic and other perks. They have asked their union, SEIU Local 300, to investigate.
‘Above and Beyond’
In an anonymous letter, the Technicians said that as caseloads increased due to the high death toll from mid-March through last month, they worked longer hours, some in new locations, took on a variety of tasks and responsibilities “and a host of other actions that helped OCME achieve success.”
“The members of SEIU Local 300 rose to the challenge,” the letter said.
With operations at the office reduced as the pandemic eased citywide, a celebratory barbecue was held June 12. It was there, the letter said, that the Chief Medical Examiner, Barbara Sampson, announced that one of FMTs, Morgan Weingarten, had gone “above and beyond” and was being promoted to Deputy Director.
The upgrade was confirmed by OCME Director Ruggiero in an email to staff the next day in which he congratulated Ms. Weingarten on “a well-deserved promotion.”
“This is a position that was not announced or posted. This is a position that only one FMT, Morgan Weingarten, knew existed. This is a position that multiple members of our team have earned and should have had an equal opportunity to apply for,” the letter said.
It is unclear how many FMTs are taking issue with the promotion. Although the letter said they would “like to discuss all of the ways in which the Forensic Mortuary Technicians went above and beyond to meet and surpass what was needed during this crisis,” the letter-writers, reached by email, declined to make anyone available for an interview.
OCME: She Earned It
A spokeswoman for the office said the pandemic created “extraordinary needs” and necessitated the expansion of internal positions “to incorporate new or increasingly complex responsibilities.”
Ms. Weingarten, she said, had “outstanding qualifications, and we stand by this successful promotion.”
The president of SEIU Local 300, Jim Golden, said that although he did not know who the letter-writers were, union attorneys were investigating the claims.
Although he said he had few details about the issue other than what the letter suggested, he was not convinced OCME officials acted improperly.
But about the FMTs, Mr. Golden added: “I don’t blame them; I would be upset too.”
The letter said Mr. Ruggiero showed “preference” for Ms. Weingarten by giving her more training opportunities than were offered to other administrators with greater seniority, despite their requests.
'Positioned for Growth'
In mid-April, as the deaths of city residents from the virus were hitting what would be an apex, supervisors moved Ms. Weingarten from her Administrator on Duty shifts to a Deputy Fatality Management Branch Director role in preparation for her promotion. Despite there being fewer responsibilities and operational demands than during the preceding shift, she also was given the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot, something they say she had long requested.
“They positioned her for growth and then created a position so that the growth was achieved,” the FMTs wrote. “The OCME Forensic Operations Division has a history of mistreating staff, and this is yet another example,” with the authors citing an ongoing pattern of “disrespect.”
“The leadership at OCME does not even respect the staff enough to feint fairness,” it said.
According to Ms. Weingarten’s LinkedIn profile, she has been with the OME since June 2017 and earned a master of science degree from Buffalo State College in 2014. She lists her post as Deputy Director of Mortuary, Transportation, Fleet and Logistics.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.