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Settlement Ends ‘Hostile Work Environment’ Lawsuit Filed by Former Stoneham Clerk

Jan 10, 2019 10:45PM ● By Lisa Redmond

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STONEHAM – An undisclosed settlement has been reached between the Town of Stoneham and the Board of Selectmen’s former office manager. The former employee, Erin Sinclair, sued her bosses claiming she endured a hostile work environment that forced her to resign and accept a lower paying job after she challenged two board members in an unsuccessful bid for selectman in 2015.

Attorney Joseph L. Sulman, who represented Sinclair in her 2016 federal lawsuit, told North Suburban News that the lawsuit has been resolved for an undisclosed settlement. A “settlement order of dismissal’’ was filed on Dec. 18 in U.S. District Court.

“We cannot comment on the confidential settlement negotiations, but Ms. Sinclair is pleased to continue her employment for the (Stoneham) Police Department,’’ Sulman wrote.

In 2016, Sinclair filed a federal lawsuit naming the town of Stoneham, Stoneham Board of Selectmen, and specifically naming selectmen Thomas Boussy, Ann Marie O’Neill and Caroline Colarusso. 

None of the selectmen nor the town’s attorney Seth B. Barnett responded to requests for comment.

According to the lawsuit, the allegations of a hostile work environment stemmed from the 2015 town election, when newcomer Sinclair was vying for one of two seats on the Board of Selectmen, including one held by her father, selectman incumbent Robert W. Sweeney. In the end, both father and daughter lost in the election. Colarusso unseated Sweeney and selectman Thomas H. Boussy won re-election.

At the time of the election, Sinclair had worked for the town for seven years in a variety of positions, including as a clerk in the Treasurer’s Office, an administrative assistant for the police chief and then in October 2012 she accepted the full-time position as office manager for the Board of Selectmen.

Between October 2012 and December 2014, Sinclair received positive feedback about her performance, according to the lawsuit. In December 2014, Sinclair decided to run for selectman in the April 2015 town election challenging her father and Boussy for their seats.

As the campaign wore on, Sinclair claims she encountered “friction,’’ even hostility, from board members. At one point, Sinclair claims O’Neill, who was holding a sign for Boussy, accused her of holding signs at what she was told was “our corner’’ and told to leave. When she refused, O’Neill stopped replying to Sinclair’s work emails and gave her the cold shoulder, the lawsuit states.

On Aug. 7, 2015, Sinclair received an email O’Neill distributed to the entire board, Town Council and the town administrator criticizing Sinclair for including certain materials in the selectmen’s packet, calling her actions “unprofessional and litigious.’’ Sinclair removed the materials, explaining that she had followed past practice.

As tensions increased, Sinclair registered a complaint about her treatment with the town’s Human Resources Department.

When Sinclair began to suffer chest pains, 911 was called and she was transported to the hospital. As a result of the incident, Sinclair was prescribed counseling and anxiety medication to address the stress at work, the lawsuit states. The next day, town counsel asked if she was interested in a position at the police department that was expected to become available, although it was at a lower salary.

When she asked if the selectmen were going to fire her, the attorney said he wanted her to know that she had options, the lawsuit states.

On Sept. 15, 2015, the town’s IT manager told Sinclair that Boussy wanted Sinclair’s email account to be “mirrored,’’ meaning a copy of every email she sent or received was sent to Boussy, according to the lawsuit. No explanation was given.

By Sept. 28, 2015, Sinclair registered a complaint with the town administrator claiming she was being subjected to a hostile work environment. From then on, Sinclair claims her relationship with the selectmen declined even further. All verbal communications between Sinclair, Boussy, Colarusso and O’Neill stopped, according to the lawsuit.

In the following days, Sinclair claims Colarusso arranged for flyers to be distributed around town falsely accusing Sinclair and her father of “political payback’’ by  proposing a referendum to expand the Board of Selectmen and require new elections. While there was a referendum, Sinclair states in the lawsuit she had no involvement and didn’t sign the petition.

Sinclair, again, registered a complaint with the town administrator saying Colarusso’s allegation was “reckless and false.’’  The board hired special counsel to investigate Sinclair’s complaint.

In October 2015, it was reported that the board hired outside legal help to defend against several pending or possible lawsuits by several municipal employees claiming harassment by town officials. By then, Sinclair had filed her civil rights lawsuit in superior court. It was later transferred to federal court.

When Sinclair arrived at a board meeting on Nov. 16, 2015, she found a report on her chair concluding that her complaints regarding a hostile work environment and allegations about the flyer were “unfounded.’’

In February 2016, Sinclair heard the board planned on reducing her position to part time and eliminate her benefits, the lawsuit states. The proposed solution was for Sinclair to accept a newly available position at the DPW for far less money and limited opportunity for salary growth.

Sinclair “did not want to take the DPW job, but felt like she had no choice,’’ the lawsuit states. On Feb. 11, 2016, she accepted the DPW position and resigned as office manager for the board. She currently works for the Stoneham Police Department, according to her attorney.

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