Employment Attorneys Weigh In On Highmark CEO Scandal
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Dr. Kenneth Melani has been with Highmark for 23 years, rising to the top position nine years ago.
Now he faces intense legal scrutiny and not just for the charges against him.
“When a chief executive decides to engage in conduct, it doesn’t take a PhD to know that it’s not a smart thing to do. He puts not only himself at risk, his career at risk, but he puts his corporation at risk,” Joel Sansone, an employment attorney, said.
Sansone says such cases usually end up with the CEO departing.
“It’s very common and it’s happened here in Pittsburgh and I’ve been involved in cases in corporations you would know and whose chief executives you would know,” Sansone told KDKA’s Jon Delano.
These cases get settled quietly, privately and often involve cash, through a so-called golden parachute, says attorney Timothy O’Brien.
“Typically, with somebody at that level, they don’t leave with empty pockets even when there’s controversy surrounding their activities,” O’Brien says.
But what about Melissa Myler, the Highmark employee with whom Melani had consensual sex?
“It’s in everyone’s best interests for her to leave and likely there would be a negotiated exit under those circumstances,” O’Brien said.
But O’Brien says it’s more likely Highmark will negotiate her departure for a price. Highmark can’t just fire her.
“I think it would be very difficult for Highmark or any other employer in that situation to take adverse action because immediately there would be a claim for retaliation and probably quite appropriately so,” he said.
And acknowledging that these attorneys don’t have any information beyond media reports, O’Brien says, “You can almost be certain that this woman will not have a long future with Highmark.”
Whatever the final resolution of the criminal complaint against Melani, his actions have implicated Highmark.
Sansone says Highmark’s reaction in the coming days may influence the impact this episode will have on the company.
“If I am them, I try to quiet this down as fast as I can so they can return to business, and that involves making sure that everybody in this process is treated properly, including the young woman that’s involved and Dr. Melani, and then seeing if there’s a way to make this thing settle itself so they can get back to business.”
Sansone says that involves money – money to Melani to guarantee a non-contentious departure and money to Melissa Myler, the Highmark employee with whom Melani had consensual sex, to get her to leave quietly.
“When she engages in an affair with the CEO, naturally everything is compromised in her ability to do her job.”
Some think Melani, the mastermind behind Highmark’s growth and acquisition of the West Penn Allegheny Health System, could continue to offer value to Highmark.
“The question is,” says O’Brien, “at this point, could there be future value given what happened and it’s almost a zero tolerance environment these days,” O’Brien said.
And that means Highmark could end up paying for the mistakes of its employees.