Fired cashier's daughters speak out against university

By Ryan Robbins
The Maine Campus

University of Maine officials told Carolyn Cust she could resign from her position as a checker at Stewart Commons -- if she agreed to sign a workers compensation agreement, Cust's daughters said a week ago Friday.
When Cust refused, she was fired, her daughters said.
A 20-year employee of the university, Cust was fired by the university in February after she admitted she had allowed off- campus hockey players to eat breakfasts for free, a violation of NCAA rules.
Her daughters, Carrie Gallant and Rhonda Carter, are angry their mother was fired but the 17 hockey players were allowed to reimburse the university and continue playing.
"We're concerned that she took the fall," Carter said. "She took all the blame for it and that's not right."
"Those hockey players didn't lose a damn thing," she said. "They're still playing hockey, they've still got their college education, and they're still going along their merry way. They stole those meals from the university. She did not drag them in there and cram that food down their throat and drag them out. They knew exactly what they were doing and she took the fall because -- and only because -- they're the hockey team. And she's a big comp case."
Head coach Shawn Walsh required the players to eat breakfast every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the season.
"They told her that they didn't have any money and that they didn't have any meal tickets and she felt sorry for them and she let them go by and eat," Carter said.
"They knew she's a softy and if they come in saying they're hungry and they didn't have any money and no card" she'd let them through, Gallant added.
The university has "been after her for a long time due to her comp," Gallant said.
Since 1985, Cust has filed four worker's compensation claims.
Before the university fired her, nobody disputed the claims. But since firing Cust, the university has disputed her claims.
Dining Services Director Jon Lewis told Teamsters Union Steward Rachel Seymour during a meeting in March that he didn't believe in worker's compensation, Gallant said.
Not only that, but UMaine Human Resources Director Dale MacDonald told Cust the university would allow her to resign if she agreed to settle her claims on the university's terms, she said.
"She told my mother that if she agreed to sign their workman's compensation agreement, that they would consider letting her resign and not terminating her," Carter said.
Lewis refused to comment Saturday on Gallant's allegation. "I'd feel uncomfortable doing that," he said. "I don't have clearance to do that."
MacDonald also declined to comment.
Seymour declined to comment about the specifics of Cust's grievance with the university, saying she did not want to jeopardize Cust's chances of winning. She did say the union believes the university treated Cust unfairly.
"Nothing happened to the hockey team," Seymour said. "Those hockey players will still play hockey. Nobody will point the finger at them. And as far as we're concerned, they are just as guilty as she is."
When the university suspended Cust with pay pending the outcome of its investigation, Lewis told Cust she was not allowed to contact anybody on campus.
In a Dec. 20, 1994, letter to Cust, Lewis wrote:
"To protect both you and the university during this period of this investigation, we are requiring that you leave campus immediately and that you not return to the university campus for any reason during the period of suspension. Until you return to work, you are to have no contact with anyone here at the university except your union steward and myself."
Cust's daughters said the university failed to pay their mother until they brought it to the university's attention at a grievance hearing during the first week of March.
Cust said the university told her not to tell anybody about the NCAA violations.
She said she offered to reimburse the university for the $600 in meals the university claimed the players ate, but the university refused to take her money. NCAA regulations would have prevented Cust from doing so, but the university didn't tell her that. Cust said she didn't know anything about NCAA regulations.
Cust said the university told her she had until Feb. 17 to resign. On Feb. 17 she handed her resignation in, but when she returned to her home, she found a letter from Lewis dated Feb. 16 informing her she had been fired.
Carter said her mother is a hard worker who doesn't take anything for granted. Her mother could have quit her job and stayed home while collecting workers compensation, she said.
Cust sustained her injuries as a custodian for Campus Living. Since 1985, she has sustained injuries to her back, both elbows, knee and finger
Even before the university became suspicious of low cash receipt totals during Cust's shift, it had been trying to find a reason to fire her, Gallant said.
"She got a letter a few months even before this that supposedly some pans fell and there was a huge thing over it," Gallant said. "Supposedly she was swearing her head off."
The university claimed that when Cust took some time off in December, cash receipt totals rose, but then dropped when she returned.
Cust took some time off between Dec. 6, 1994, and Dec. 23, 1994, to take care of Carter's kids. Carter had gone to California and Cust took some hours off periodically to make sure the kids got on the school bus.
Cust could not remember whether she had taken a full day off during that time. Her daughters said they did not believe she had.
Carter disputed the university's claim that 17 student- athletes received free meals. "If 17 are saying that they got meals free, then they got them from somebody else as well as her," she said.
Cust said she did not know how many players she let through. The players had to sign their names at the check-in to show they had eaten, but not all of the players ate all the time, she said.
"I know for a fact that in the beginning those that didn't have the money came in, signed their name and left because they didn't want Shawn Walsh to know they didn't eat because they didn't have the money to pay for it," Cust said.
"I'm not the only (one) that let people in to eat," she said. "Believe me. And it's probably still going on."
Now working part-time at Wadleigh's Market in Old Town, Cust said her main concern is health insurance. She has custody of her 16-year-old niece, whose mother died a few years ago.
"I've really had it with this," Cust said. "I feel that I've lost everything. My health is for the birds, they're trying to take my comp away from me. You try to live on $50 a week to support this house and a 16-year-old. You can't do it."
Cust said she has learned a valuable lesson from the incident.
"If I was doing that job today, my own daughters would not get into that building," she said. "I learned a great lesson."
She doesn't harbor any hard feelings toward the players, though. She has refused to name of those she allowed to eat for free.
"I love them. I love my kids. I do," she said.

This story originally appeared in the April 13, 1995, edition of The Maine Campus.

Copyright 1995, Ryan R. Robbins