Third Former Employee to File Suit For June 30th Action
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Sharon Kitchin, who served as the town’s director of human resources, filed suit against the town last week, citing wrongful termination. She is the third out of three employees who were fired by Town Manager Gayle Corrigan June 30 to sue.
This is the fifth lawsuit filed against the town since August. The town has also filed suit against the firefighters union.
In her complaint, Kitchin accuses the Town Council of violating the Open Meetings Act and the Town Charter, now-familiar accusations following the lawsuits filed by the two other former employees as well an earlier lawsuit already ruled upon by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl in which she described the town’s failure to comply with the Open Meetings Act as “willful and knowing” and issued a fine. McGuirl also found the town violated the Town Charter but deferred to town residents of the town to handle that wrongdoing. (Find the complaint here: Kitchin v Town of EG.)
In addition to those charges, Kitchin accuses the town of failing to pay “comp time” back wages.
Corrigan fired Kitchin, former assistant to the town manager Pam Aveyard, and former Finance Director Kristen Benoit shortly after being appointed Town Manager June 30, in letters that told the employees they were being “separated” from the town for “budget restructuring and fiscal consolidations” called for under the so-called “One Town” consolidation plan Corrigan was implementing.
In her complaint, Kitchin notes that the Attorney General and Judge McGuirl have ruled that the Town Council’s hiring of Corrigan June 19 was illegal since it was done without proper notice and the vote was not taken in public. The complaint notes the Town Council again violated the Open Meetings Act, as found by both the AG’s office and McGuirl, when it discussed the June 26 the consolidation plan without notifying Kitchin that her job was being discussed, as was her right as a department head. Also, the council did not vote to approve the firing of Kitchin in public session.
The complaint notes Kitchin was not terminated because of a lack of funds since the HR position remains funded in the town’s current budget.
The complaint says the council violated the Town Charter by not discussing the “One Town” plan – which it characterized as “a major policy initiative with enormous potential impact on the public and governmental operations” – in open session.
Kitchin also argues the town failed to pay her for 10 hours of compensatory time she had earned by working beyond normal her normal workday.
Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said Wednesday via email that the town would issue a response by the end of the month.
“In the meantime, I am not inclined to comment on pending litigation, other than to indicate that the matter (as with all claims against the Town) have been submitted to the Town’s insurer for appropriate action,” he said.
D’Agostino noted, however, that some of the actions cited in Kitchin’s complaint and found as violations by both Judge McGuirl and the Attorney General’s office were remedied Nov. 20, when the Town Council voted to re-appoint Corrigan and reaffirm decisions made by her, including the June 30th firings, during a properly noticed public meeting.
Judge McGuirl ruled earlier this week that the town owed $41,905 in legal fees to the lawyer representing the EG firefighters in the November lawsuit where the judge found in the firefighters’ favor on Open Meetings Act violations. The town also paid $104,000 in legal fees between August and November to the law firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket, in addition to the monthly $11,500 paid to D’Agostino.
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Not only did the town agree to indemnify Ms. Corrigan and the council on these lawsuits, but they also refused to negotiate for lower fees when presented the opportunity to by the court and opposing lawyer. Ms. Corrigan and Mr. D’Agostino should be paying for these fees out of their own pockets. Where is the responsible governance in this? Can the council explain this?