DNR supervisor reinstated; officials investigate her discrimination claimby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — An enforcement supervisor for the state Department of Natural Resources, who had been fired for her role in a 2007 conference where state fundraising rules were broken, will soon return to work.
Capt. Cathy Hamm, who had supervised conservation officers in the Twin Cities area, will get her job back after an arbitrator ruled last week that the DNR terminated her employment without just cause.
The arbitrator ruled Hamm should receive back pay and benefits. But Hamm is also seeking damages through a discrimination complaint she filed with the state Department of Human Rights.
Hamm and her husband, Mike Hamm, were both placed on leave after news reports about the 2007 conference for game wardens questioned the amount of state money that was spent on the event. DNR officials allowed Mike Hamm to retire, but his wife was terminated for violating agency policies.
The arbitrator that ruled Cathy Hamm should be reinstated said in his decision that there was little evidence to show Hamm violated the agency's policies. Instead, he said, many of the rules were broken by top level DNR management, including Hamm's husband.
Cathy Hamm's attorney, Sofia Andersson-Stern, said Wednesday that her client is alleging discrimination based on gender and marital status.
DNR officials blamed Hamm for many of the decisions made by her husband, Andersson-Stern said. And as the highest-ranking female in the DNR enforcement division, Hamm believes she was targeted for termination while other male DNR managers were allowed to stay, her attorney said.
"The allegations didn't have merit, so it begs the question as to why she was chosen to be terminated to begin with," Andersson-Stern said.
DNR spokeswoman Colleen Coyne wouldn't comment Wednesday on Hamm's discrimination allegations or her job reinstatement.
"As far as we're concerned, it's still considered a personnel matter," Coyne said.
Andersson-Stern said it will take the Human Rights Department time to review Hamm's claim. For now, she said, Hamm is grateful for the arbitrator's ruling and looks forward to returning to the job she loved.
"She's very happy that finally someone was able to hear her version of the story," Andersson-Stern said.