Updated at May 22
Carla Damian-Gomes recently left her 10-year position as a court officer at the Dukes County courthouse after being unable to receive sick time to care for her ailing child — a situation that her courthouse colleagues are criticizing as unjust.
Gomes’ 18-month-old son, John Henry, required open-heart surgery, but because Gomes was a per diem employee, she did not qualify for sick-time benefits.
Public information officer for the Supreme Judicial Court Jennifer Donahue said in an email that there are approximately 50 per diem court officers across the state.
“There have also been previous openings for full-time positions, which are available to per diem court officers and others to apply, but it has been difficult to recruit full-time court officers in Dukes and Nantucket Counties,” Donahue wrote. While paid sick leave is only available to full-time employees, Donahue explained that being a per diem employee allows those employees flexibility to take time off as needed.
According to her former colleagues, Gomes would have to be out of work for three weeks in order to be with her son during the surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Skip Tomassian, the president of the Dukes County Bar Association, wrote that Gomes was “the official though unofficial court interpreter for the Brazilian Portuguese.” Tomassian wrote that Gomes helped many people for whom English is not their native language, through the legal system.
Being the only female court officer, Gomes also advocated for women and gave women “the courage to speak through her,” Tomassian wrote.
While Gomes worked a 37.5-hour work week, Tomassian wrote that “similarly situated employees need only put in a minimum of 35” to be eligible for benefits.
“Carla leaves to attend to her son, and has found two other jobs. Hard-working moms do that,” Tomassian wrote.
On Tuesday night, Tisbury selectmen officially hired Gomes for one of those jobs. She was one of two people recommended by Police Chief Mark Saloio as a special police officer. Saloio specifically cited her ability to speak Portuguese and French as assets to the department. “She’s coming to us with qualities that I feel are going to be very advantageous,” he said.
Gomes was not at the meeting, Saloio noting for the board that she was attending to a personal family health issue.
Dukes County Bar Association and local court members stepped in to support Gomes after the “breach opened by the failure of the Trial Court to do the right thing,” he wrote.
At the end of the statement, Tomassion wrote, “Shame on the trial court.”
Court employees work for the state, even though it’s a county courthouse.
The human resources manager of labor relations and investigations at Massachusetts Trial Court, Christine Hegarty, could not be immediately reached for comment.
In a statement, Edgartown District Court clerk magistrate Liza Williamson described Gomes as “an integral part of our team. In addition to her professionalism, her willingness and ability to foster communication with our Portuguese-speaking community helped further our mission, which is access to justice for our community as a whole.”
The Times attempted to reach Gomes through Juliana Germani, a Times columnist who has written about her in the past. Gomes declined a request to be interviewed at this time.
In a 2017 story written by Germani, Gomes said she became a court officer because she “wanted to feel less powerless,” and had always wanted to be a police officer because of the way things were in her home country of Brazil.
George Brennan contributed to this report. Story updated to correct where there are per diem employees. Court officers basis are hired on a per diem basis at courthouses across the state.