Mary Kay Scandal at Bus Garage UPDATE
Posted by TheCanvasGrey on November 14, 2007
From the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail:
One of the school bus employees fired for allegedly having a role in an unworked overtime scandal said she was wrongly terminated and denied selling beauty and skincare products while on the clock for the school system.
Sheri Painter, who worked as a bus driver at the Elkview terminal for eight years, was one of four bus employees whose dismissals were disclosed at a Kanawha County school board meeting last week.
According to school officials, at least 10 employees at the Elkview facility have either been fired or quit because of allegations they collected tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay while selling Mary Kay products.
“I never sold Mary Kay,” said Painter, 47, of Elkview. “I was doing my job. To say I was out selling Mary Kay is just ridiculous.”
Painter said she has hired an attorney, Charles Hamilton, to look into the matter.
She contends she never sold the products, but would often see Mary Kay items for sale displayed on tables at the bus terminal.
“One time, around Christmas, there were little Mary Kay baskets out for sale,” Painter said. “On another day, there were so many boxes of Mary Kay products sitting out at the bottom of the steps of the garage.”
Painter recalled one instance in which she received $250 extra on a paycheck sometime last year between September and December.
According to Painter, she alerted her supervisor, Nancy Bowen-Kerr, about the discrepancy. Painter said Bowen-Kerr told her to cash the check and hand the $250 over to her.
“I cashed it, and about an hour later, she gave me a bag of Mary Kay,” Painter said. “I just took it. I didn’t know what it was, a gift or what.”
Painter claims that Bowen-Kerr then asked her if she wanted to buy any other Mary Kay products, noting they’d make a nice Christmas gift for Painter’s daughter.
Bowen-Kerr resigned in June amid an investigation into the Mary Kay scandal. Last week, school board member Pete Thaw said, “Here’s what we think happened. The supervisor gave those people overtime and they used it to sell Mary Kay cosmetic products. I’m talking about a lot of overtime. Tens of thousands of dollars. They weren’t working at all. They were out selling cosmetics.”
Another board member, Bill Raglin, said he believed several of the people involved were not selling the products themselves.
“My impression was that the folks involved in this were paid for overtime they didn’t work,” Raglin said. “They were not paid overtime to go sell products. They may have been buying it from someone else. The issue we had is that people were being paid overtime for which they didn’t work.”
Thaw said he had conducted his own investigation and those were the facts he had obtained. He also expressed frustration over school officials’ unwillingness to reveal information about the case.
Several school officials, including school board lawyer Jim Withrow, have declined to disclose details regarding the scandal, citing personnel issues.
“That’s the information I developed,” Thaw said about his comments to the press. “I’m sick of being handed these confidential memorandums. Everything they’re doing down there is aimed at one thing: That’s to inhibit and slow up the communication process.”
The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department and prosecutor’s office are also investigating because public money was involved. A spokesman for the sheriff’s department said he could not talk about the situation until the investigation is complete.
Painter said she was unaware of anyone selling the products other than the supervisor.
Attempts to reach Bowen-Kerr were unsuccessful.
Painter said she was called into the county schools’ office in April and questioned about overtime she had apparently taken. But Painter denied ever taking overtime, or even asking for it.
In a private meeting, school officials showed her two questionable overtime checks, one for around $300 and another for $400, Painter said.
She insisted that her signature on the checks had been forged, and her name was even misspelled on one of them.
“I’d never seen those checks until they called me to Elizabeth Street,” Painter said. “There were differences in the two signatures. For one of them, they spelled my name, ‘Sherry’ instead of ‘Sheri.’
Painter was suspended on July 13 without pay. She had planned to work at the warehouse for summer maintenance.
So Painter was obviously taken aback last week when she learned that the school board terminated her. She is appealing the decision with the grievance board.
“I’d never been in trouble like this in my 47 years,” she said mild-mannerly. “My family’s a lot more ticked off than I am.”
Staff writer Kelly Holleran contributed to this story. Contact writer Jake Stump at email@example.com or 348-4842.