An employment rights attorney representing both fired Highmark CEO Kenneth R. Melani and his mistress, Melissa Myler, said today that he is exploring whether civil rights laws barring retaliation and sex discrimination were violated in the insurer's handling of events prior to and after the CEO's arrest last month.
Attorney Sam Cordes said that before the March 25 arrest of Dr. Melani at the home of Ms. Myler's husband, Highmark board members who he would not name urged that Ms. Myler be fired from her sports marketing job.
"Dr. Melani was approached by some board members who suggested that Melissa be 'gotten rid of,'" Mr. Cordes said. "There were legal issues raised with doing that. ... That may be the nub of what this case ends up being about for both of my clients."
Dr. Melani ended up being fired, while Ms. Myler reported to work today, Mr. Cordes said.
Dr. Melani has been with Highmark for 22 years, including nine years in the top job.
Ms. Myler was hired in October. She and her husband knew the Melanis socially, Mr. Cordes said, but the CEO did not get her the job or influence her salary.
"She got the job, like lots of people get jobs, by asking around and asking people about jobs," Mr. Cordes said. She asked Dr. Melani if there were job openings at Highmark. He said there were always job openings. She applied, went through the normal process, and was hired, Mr. Cordes said.
She was paid "in the low end of that pay scale" for the job, Mr. Cordes said, and was neither promoted nor the subject of any negative reviews at the company.
"Not once did anybody say she was out of her league," he said. She worked on a contract between Highmark and the PGA tour, and "got a better deal for the company" than what was originally on the table, he said.
Dr. Melani and Ms. Myler's romantic relationship started after she was hired. It was not kept secret from Highmark's board, Mr. Cordes said.
That led to pressure to have Ms. Myler removed.
"The problem is that how she has been treated says a lot about treatment of women," Mr. Cordes said. "We're going to explore that."
He said an effort to push her out could constitute "differential treatment. If I knew nothing about this case but what I've been reading in the newspapers I'd be looking at that. ... I think nudging her out the door is the nub of one of the problems."
Mr. Cordes said that pre- and post-arrest, Dr. Melani "offered throughout this, full and complete disclosure and in fact offered to meet and provide information [to the board] and they were not interested in that."
He was fired a week after his arrest on charges of assault and defiant trespass stemming from a fight with Ms. Myler's husband. Mr. Cordes said that Highmark has not specified the cause of the firing.
He did not rule out proceeding through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or filing a contract action. He said the legal interests of Dr. Melani and Ms. Myler are separate, but not in conflict.
A Highmark spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.