"Who do you think you are?" "Just answer the phone." "I overestimated you." "I'm so over these deaths."
That's just some of workplace harassment alleged by New Castle County Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle's former aide Kate Maxwell during an interview with a human resources investigator conducting an independent investigation ordered by council.
WDEL has obtained the 28-page secret report by Tricia Clendening with HR Strategies, who determined there was credibility and merit to Maxwell's claims that she was harassed by her boss.
Maxwell described a bipolar personality in Hartley-Nagle, saying, "I never knew who I was going to get."
"She would call me every night, and I was expected to be on the phone with her for an hour. She told that I had to be on call 24x7, and if I couldn't then this isn't the right job for me," Maxwell told investigators.
In the report, Maxwell said she was barred from answering emails without permission and forbidden from talking to other council people or their aides. She said she was required to call Hartley-Nagle when she arrived at her desk each day at work.
She also described a boss who called her an "idiot" and a "moron" and, at times, said: "What are you, 10? Do you need to call your mommy."
A former aide to New Castle County Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle will be paid nearly…
Maxwell detailed some of the allegations for WDEL in conversations that predate her severance agreement, in which she received $59,000 to vacate her position with county council. Maxwell was also paid $21,000 for five months' leave while an independent investigation was conducted. Attorneys and HR fees in the case have amounted to more than $74,000.
Maxwell also alleged in the report that one of Hartley-Nagle's closest advisers--who's not on paid county staff--asked whether Maxwell needed a "different prescription regiment" in a February off-site meeting to discuss her performance.
Maxwell, the daughter of former top county official and lobbyist Bob Maxwell, failed to return several requests for comment, since WDEL first learned of the alleged harassment in May. Her severance agreement now explicitly bars her from speaking to the media.
THE ALLEGED HARASSER RESPONDS
In Hartley-Nagle's interview--which WDEL learned from county officials took five hours and included her attorney--she described Maxwell's alleged "poor work performance, work ethics, and attendance."
"She did not have the knowledge, skills, or abilities that she claimed on her resume," said Hartley-Nagle.
Hartley-Nagle maintained her aide often showed up late and left early. She insisted she never called Maxwell "dumb, a moron, or an idiot" and that she wasn't barred from talking to council people or other staffers.
"She talked to everyone under the sun," said Hartley-Nagle.
When Clendening asked questions about specific allegations lodged by Maxwell, Hartley-Nagle always responded: "No."
She alleged Maxwell was on the phone with her mother constantly.
"Karen told Kate: 'You can't keep calling your mother, we have work to do,'" the report said.
Hartley-Nagle also claimed that several council persons and their aides were harassing Maxwell, at times, to get information on Hartley-Nagle.
The council president also claimed her aide, who is the fiancee of fallen firefighter Christopher Leach, took off for several funerals and didn't tell anyone. She denies ever saying, "I'm so over these deaths," as Maxwell had reported to the HR investigator.
Hartley-Nagle's private attorney, Sid Liebesman, told WDEL the investigation was "rigged from the start." He also said Maxwell lodged harassment claims because she knew she was about to be fired.
But the confidential investigative report detailed Hartley-Nagle admitting she never told Maxwell her position could end and that there was time dedicated to learning parts of the job.
In a previous interview with WDEL, county council's counsel Mike Migliore noted Maxwell's performance was never discussed in any council meetings, and that Maxwell didn't file the complaint--others did on her behalf.
A TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT
Twenty-five other councilpersons, their aides, and other council staffers were interviewed in connection with the human resources investigation, and they described a toxic work environment in the face of which many prefer to keep their doors closed.
Only a handful admitted to seeing Maxwell crying on a few occasions while more than a dozen others simply said they weren't aware or haven't witnessed any "inappropriate behavior" between Hartley-Nagle and any council member or staff.
"We feel that there are people that are scared to say something because they don't want to become the next person," said Kilpatrick.
Clendending, in her final summary report, said many appeared apprehensive to disclose information, fearing retribution and retaliation. Those who did acknowledge it said things like:
"President Nagle comes across strong, not in error."
"Not abusive but controlling."
"I listened to meetings and was uncomfortable by what I heard. The meeting wasn't run properly by Karen. She should shut this down, it's her job to keep decorum."
When asked whether there was anything they wanted to add, some respondents went off on tirades, speaking harshly about the first-time elected leader.
"Karen is extremely challenging on a daily basis and all the time. My experiences are similar to Kate's, one minute Karen is miserable and then the next she is happy. Karen manipulates what you say and it may be a personality disorder. I don't believe anyone gets along with her. She deflects things and can never be wrong. Rest assured when she's nice to you, she's using you."
"She seemed to me to be injuring her effectiveness; by being combative and overly assertive."
Other respondents said:
"She always stated if council did not 'yield' to her leadership, she would 'punish' the council members politically...she would primarily focus on Lisa Diller and Janet Kilpatrick."
Kilpatrick co-chairs the personnel committee that held months of closed-door meetings to determine how to deal with the harassment allegations.
"Council president seems to me to be ethically challenged as well as lacking in common sense and good judgement. On the floor of council on debate, Council President neglected her duty to be a fair and impartial chairperson. She cheered and applauded speakers that she perceived as her political supporters," said one respondent.
"I've seen Karen first-hand if she doesn't agree with you. If you are against me, then you're my enemy."
"It's not a healthy environment."
In a final summary report, Clendening said she didn't uncover any first-hand witnesses of harassment or hostility as a result of Hartley-Nagle's behavior due to the ongoing fears of retaliation, which could've clouded the entire investigation.
"Individuals that were interviewed shared that under the new leadership, there was a lot more tension than they have experienced previously and that most people kept the doors to their offices closed so that they weren't subjected to the changed environment."
Regarding the accusations made by Hartley-Nagle referencing Maxwell's attendance, Clendening said they were unfounded based on statements made by other interviewees.
Liebesman told WDEL he submitted a binder with dozens of tabs, detailing allegations of Maxwell's poor work product, which included samples of her work, computer screenshots, and emails Clendening said the evidence didn't support the assertion.
"Karen Hartley-Nagle’s position regarding Kate Maxwell being a very poor employee with a bad work ethic and bad work product could not be substantiated after review of the materials provided by Mr. Liebesman and taking into consideration the opinions of others interviewed throughout this investigation."
Even if the claims had been substantiated, Clendening concluded Maxwell's work performance is irrelevant to the argument of harassment.
"There was no documentation or counseling or a performance improvement plan, for Kate provided by Karen, during Kate’s employment to address the concerns Karen has brought up during this investigation. Furthermore, the council will not tolerate harassment in any form and must protect all employees from harassment and retaliation regardless of the employee being a stellar or subpar employee.
"Harassment and hostile work environments can be defined by how the harasser makes a victim feel. Kate Maxwell regularly felt harassed by Karen’s behavior and comments although it may not have been the intention of Karen, but it is clearly defined by the impact these have had on Kate."
"It is still he said/she said because like domestic abuse a lot of this is hidden, nobody blatantly in the middle of the parking lot harasses somebody. And who lost here? Kate did. She had a job, she had benefits, yes we did a settlement with her---a very minimal settlement compared to some that we've seen coming out of the city of Wilmington...but she's the loser here," said Kilpatrick, prior to knowing that WDEL had obtained the report.
It was recommended council undergo training, develop human resources processes, and update its harassment policy as well as reporting procedures. Council has set aside $17,000 in the budget for training.
"We're seeing that in the harassment cases that are coming out now, what people thought was acceptable 20 years ago, 15 years ago, we know are not acceptable...these things evolve. As a responsible person, we truly need to look at ourselves all the time on a recurring basis," said Kilpatrick.
Clendending also recommended Hartley-Nagle's supervisory powers be stripped for the remainder of her term, even if she completed harassment and leadership training. Sources told WDEL Hartley-Nagle's supervisory powers were tied to the completion of training and that training has come to a halt with Hartley-Nagle refusing to continue.
Hartley-Nagle didn't respond to WDEL's request for comment for this story.
Other sources on council told WDEL the harassment continues.
"We get calls that [Hartley-Nagle's] yelling at somebody, or I have a council person saying, 'My aide doesn't have to put up with this, she's not going to ever do anything for this woman.' On a weekly basis, somebody is complaining,'" said the source who wished to remain anonymous, fearing retribution.