Acting DRS Commissioner was at center of lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation

Department of Revenue Services office building

Acting commissioner of the Department of Revenue Services John Biello was at the center of a complaint to the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and a lawsuit alleging discrimination, which eventually ended with a $31,568 settlement by the state.

Former DRS Audit Supervisor Raymond Ostasiewski filed a complaint with the CHRO in 2014 alleging age discrimination after Biello passed him over for a promotion in 2013 in favor of younger, less experienced employees for supervisory positions within the department.

Ostasiewski was 57 years old at the time and had been working for DRS for 32 years. Biello was the Tax Division Chief of Audit for the state income tax and headed a panel to hire a new Revenue Services Tax Supervisor.  

According to the complaint and documented emails obtained under a Freedom of Information request, Biello ordered Ostasiewski’s manager – Lawrence Runowicz — to lower his supervisory service ratings from “excellent” to “superior” while Ostasiewski was a candidate for the promotion to become Revenue Services Tax Supervisor.

When Runowicz did not immediately comply, Biello threatened “further action or intervention by [Human Resources],” at which point Runowicz lowered Ostasiewski’s performance rating. 

2013 email from John Biello to Lawrence Runowicz

In his court complaint, Ostasiewski claimed he had received ratings of “excellent” in every category from 2005 until Biello ordered the change in 2013. 

Ostasiewski alleged his service ratings were lowered in order to promote younger candidates to supervisory roles in accordance with the department’s affirmative action goals.

Ostasiewski filed an additional CHRO complaint in 2015 alleging retaliation by Biello, who once again lowered Ostasiewski’s service ratings to “satisfactory” because he had taken time off to tend to a sick family member and for several funerals. 

Ostasiewski’s performance rating meeting was overseen by Biello and the two women who had received promotions over him, according to the complaint.

The CHRO released Ostasiewski from jurisdiction in 2015, allowing him to file suit in the court system. In his court complaint, Ostasiewski alleged discrimination based on age, race and gender and retaliation by the DRS. 

However, the court dismissed his claims of race and gender discrimination because his original complaint with CHRO only alleged age discrimination and retaliation; therefore, he had not pursued all available avenues to remedy the complaint before taking the state to court.

The Office of the Attorney General eventually settled with Ostasiewski in 2018, granting him $21,568 in back pay for not being awarded the promotion and an additional $10,000 for attorney fees, according to the settlement provided by the Attorney General’s Office.

Ostasiewski was given the title of Revenue Services Tax Supervisor but forced to retire from state service.

Biello took over as acting DRS Commissioner following the 2019 resignation of Scott Jackson. 

Jackson had inherited a department filled with inter-departmental strife built up during the tenure of Commissioner Kevin Sullivan, which saw numerous discrimination complaints based on age, race and sexual favoritism/harassment.

One of those claims surfaced in a report by Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant, which had Biello at the forefront of another controversy, this time in the position of acting commissioner. 

Tax legal director Marilee Clark and tax unit manager Susan Sherman were suspended from the department following Biello’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee on legislation proposed by DRS. 

Clark, who is charge of drafting legislative language affecting the DRS, submitted a bill regarding estate and probate fee liens that would have reclassified the position of First Assistant Commissioner Louis Bucari and moved him from DRS to the Office of the Attorney General.

Clark had previously submitted CHRO complaints and filed a lawsuit alleging sexual discrimination by First Assistant Commissioner Louis Bucari. The department eventually settled Clark’s complaint with a $39,000 payout.

Bucari has consistently denied any wrong-doing, although an internal DRS investigation found he had exercised poor judgement in trying to establish a personal relationship with a female subordinate. 

Clark told the Hartford Courant that she submitted similar recommendations last year.

In public testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Biello strongly opposed the legislation put forward by his own department, particularly the reclassification of Bucari’s position.

Shortly after Biello submitted his testimony to the Judiciary Committee, Clark and Sherman were escorted out of the DRS office and placed on leave pending an investigation.

Gov. Ned Lamont has yet to appoint a new commissioner for DRS. 

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