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North Suburban News

‘Hostile Work Environment’ Lawsuit Settled for $85K

Feb 28, 2019 10:41PM ● By Lisa Redmond

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STONEHAM – A former selectmen’s clerk will be paid a total of $85,000 to dismiss her hostile work environment lawsuit against the town and three selectmen, despite the selectmen’s denial of any wrongful conduct in thecase, according to the settlement agreement obtained by North Suburban News.

Former clerk Erin Sinclair will be paid $42,950 for “emotional distress,’’ while the law firm of Joseph L. Sulman, which represented Sinclair, will receive $42,050 as payment for attorney’s fees and costs, according to the agreement.

Selectboard Chairman Shelly MacNeill released the settlement agreement in response to a Jan. 22 Freedom of Information Act request by North Suburban News.

Under the settlement, signed on Jan. 7 by the parties, the town and Selectman Ann Marie O'Neill and Caroline Colarusso, along with former selectmen Thomas Boussey, make no admission of liability.

The selectmen “expressly deny” the allegations contained in the complaint, said the town’s attorney Seth Barnett.  Any settlement reached on the town’s behalf is “independently undertaken by the town’s insurer as a business decision,'' Barnett wrote.

In a statement, MacNeill wrote, “It is the board’s responsibility to protect the taxpayers and to make decisions that are in the best financial interest of the town. Given the information that was before the board we entered into mediation – through our insurer – and came to a settlement in this case.’’

As part of the settlement, the payments will start after July 1, the start of the FY20  budget, to “mitigate any potential impact on the town’s current budget,’’ MacNeill wrote.

Barnett stressed that the information gathered before and during the litigation supports their steadfast belief that the allegations brought against them were without merit, regardless of the insurer’s independent decision to engage in settlement negotiations on their behalf."

In her lawsuit Sinclair, a seven-year town employee and the Board of Selectmen's office manager since 2012, alleged her work environment changed for the worse when she entered the race for one of two seats on the Board of Selectmen, including one held by her father and the other held by selectman incumbent Robert W. Sweeney. 

In the end, both father and daughter lost in the election. Colarusso unseated Sweeney and then selectman Thomas H. Boussy won re-election.

During the campaign, Sinclair claims she encountered “friction,’’ even hostility, from board members, according to the lawsuit. She alleges that O'Neill and Colarusso gave her the cold shoulder at work, an allegation they both deny.

As the stress at work got worse, Sinclair registered a complaint with the town administrator on Sept. 28, 2015, claiming she was being subjected to a hostile work environment. From then on, Sinclair claims her relationship with the selectmen got worse. 

After Sinclair complained, the Board of Selectmen retained the services of an outside investigator to investigate the allegations in order to determine whether such charges had merit, Barnett wrote.

"After conducting thorough investigations into the complaint, investigator determined that the charges of a hostile work environment and defamation could not be substantiated," Barnett wrote.

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 a flyer were “unfounded.’

Sinclair claims she felt forced to take a lower paying job at the Department of Public Works. She currently works for the Stoneham Police Department, according to her attorney.

CORRECTION: Selectman Ann Marie O'Neill was the third person named in the Erin Sinclair lawsuit. An earlier version of the story incorrectly name another selectman. Chairman Shelly MacNeill was not named in the lawsuit.

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