Fired school bus driver's case being reviewed for stricter burden of proof

BUS ROUTE: Fired school bus driver Karen Madlutk points out different bus stops along her route as she speaks during a merit hearing at the Civil Service Commission in May. John O'Connor/The Guam Daily Post

Commissioners of the Civil Service Commission have remanded a recommendation for the job termination of former school bus driver Karen Madlutk, so that the administrative law judge can reassess using a different burden of proof. 

The recommendation was not read during the hearing Thursday, as CSC Chairman Juan Calvo informed commissioners he would make the motion to have Administrative Law Judge Eric Miller use what's known as a "clear and convincing" burden of proof.

Calvo said Miller's report is based on "substantial evidence," which is a lesser burden of proof that applies to adverse action cases involving alleged felonies or misdemeanors. The "clear and convincing" standard applies in cases of alleged violations of personnel rules. 

"To me, that's not the appropriate venue to decide on that case, substantial evidence, because the employee, Karen Madlutk, was never criminally charged," Calvo said, adding that he did not see reports from Child Protective Services, the police or the Office of the Attorney General indicating criminal charges against Madlutk.

"So substantial evidence should not be applied. It should be a clear and convincing standard," Calvo said. 

His fellow commissioners agreed and voted to remand Miller's recommendation for reassessment. 

Madlutk is the former bus driver implicated in a widely publicized bus stop incident, in which two siblings were reportedly forced off her bus nowhere near their home, after they boarded the wrong bus.

Assistant Attorney General Donna Lawrence, representing the Department of Public Works, said during the eve of hearings on the case in May that witness testimony indicated no similar incident had happened before May 2019, in which a driver dropped off a child at a bus stop knowing it was the wrong stop.  

"Had Karen complied with the training and the safety and the practices and protocols, and had taken these children back to the school, Adacao (Elementary School), there wouldn't have been a problem. She would not have been disciplined," Lawrence said. 

Joanie LaVille from the Guam Federation of Teachers, representing Madlutk, said there is only one copy of the DPW bus manual in existence and management stated during the hearing that it is not available to employees. 

The supervisor stated that bus drivers are told to return students to school when they are on the wrong bus during DPW meetings, but could not say if Madlutk was in the meeting, and management could not confirm that they have training, meetings or counseling that addresses such incidents, according to LaVille. 

This was also Madlutk's first offense after nine years working at DPW and LaVille contends her client was not afforded progressive discipline. 

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