State cuts ties with medical non-profit following human rights investigation

The state will take over medical assistance responsibilities starting January 1

By: - December 13, 2021 5:12 pm

Illustration by PXhere (Creative Commons)

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry is ending its contract with the Montana Professional Assistance Program, a private non-profit that contracts with the state, whose director was recently investigated for harassment and discrimination of three former female employees.

DLI said in a letter that the department will take over the administration of the medical assistance program when MPAP’s contract ends on Dec. 31.

“After careful consideration, the Department of Labor and Industry is shifting administration of the medical assistance program internally in lieu of a contracted service provider,” the letter read. “The department anticipates a smooth transition, maintaining assistance for licensees, protection of the public, and efficient use of board resources. As you have come to expect, the department will continue to provide a comprehensive monitoring report to each board.”

DLI said in the letter that managing the program internally will allow for more direct monitoring of participant progress and create a wider variety of choices available to program participants.

A seven-month investigation by the Human Rights Bureau found reasonable cause that MPAP’s Director, Michael Ramirez, subjected the former employees to a years-long pattern of gender-based harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, according to an investigative report.

A spokesperson for the department did not comment on whether the investigation into Ramirez played a role in the state ending the contract.

MPAP, which has contracted with the state since at least 2016, is a Billings-based private nonprofit that administers assistance programs for Montana’s Boards of Dentistry, Medical Examiners, Pharmacy and Nursing and helps rehabilitate state healthcare workers suffering from substance abuse and addiction.

When reached by phone Monday, Mikhail Joutovsky, the clinic’s interim medical director, would not comment on the state ending MPAP’s contract.

The investigation found Ramirez made multiple sexist jokes and comments at the expense of female employees. Examples outlined in the report included sexist jokes about a blind man mistaking a fish market for females and comments specific to females, such as “you want to either f*** ’em or kill ’em.'”

The investigation into Ramirez and MPAP started after Amber Roane, Meghan McGauley, and Cecilia Zinnikas all filed complaints against Ramirez in March, alleging, among other things, that he made sexist remarks was threatening and demeaning, denied the women in the office opportunities for advancement.

The former employees said they suffered lost wages, humiliation, and discrimination, and that they believe Ramirez violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Montana Human Rights Act “by engaging in disparate treatment, discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation.”

Eric Holm, the attorney for the three former employees, said as of Nov. 12, they had not received any financial compensation but that he will be requesting it from a hearing officer in the future.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.