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Legasey v. City of Worcester

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 31, 2018

BRITTANY LEGASEY Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WORCESTER and DAVID RUSHFORD, in his individual and official capacity as city clerk, Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 51)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Brittany Legasey (“Plaintiff”) brings this action against David Rushford (“Rushford”), individually and in his official capacity as city clerk, and the City of Worcester (the City”) (collectively referred to as “Defendants”) for her unlawful termination. She has asserts claims for violation of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12 § 11H-11J, as well as retaliation under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 185. The Defendants filed this motion seeking summary judgment as to all counts.

         Background

         The Plaintiff began working as a principal staff assistant (“PSA”) for the Elections Office (the “Elections Office”) within the City's Clerks Department (“Clerks Department”) on September 15, 2014. The Elections Office is responsible for administering and overseeing all elections in the City. There are fourteen budgeted positions in the Clerks Department, four of which are in the Elections Office. The city clerk is the head of the Elections Office and has the authority to hire and fire all persons employed within the Clerks Department. Rushford was city clerk from 1998 through 2016. During his tenure, Rushford terminated four employees, one for abandoning his position, two for stealing money, and Plaintiff. Nikolin Vangjeli (“Vangjeli”), the Plaintiff's direct supervisor was hired by Rushford in 2013 and was quickly promoted. Vangjeli had worked for Democratic Mayor Petty in the summer of 2012 and requested a recommendation from him for at least one of the promotional positions Vangjeli applied for, and received, within the Elections Office. Rushford also hired Shannon Emmons (“Emmons”), the cousin of Mayor Petty.

         Plaintiff did not receive formal training but “on the fly” training in her position as PSA. On December 8, 2014, Plaintiff attended a human resources orientation with Pamela Callahan. During this orientation, Plaintiff was informed of the policies regarding sick time including that she must request permission to take time off.

         Plaintiff overheard Rushford refer to a city councilor who had campaigned against Mayor Petty in 2011 and 2013, as a “bitch.” She also heard him refer to a Republican State Committee member as “crazy” and a “bitch” and accused her of “perpetuating voter fraud and intimidation”. While discussing his experience working on political campaigns with Plaintiff, Rushford referenced the employees of the Clerks Department as “all good democrats”.

         On December 6, 2014, Plaintiff, and her roommate Cindy Nguyen (“Nguyen”), [1] attended a birthday party for City Counselor Michael Gaffney (“Gaffney”). Within a few days after the party, Plaintiff informed Vangjeli that she had attended and had spoken with a Republican state committee member. Vangjeli does not remember speaking with Plaintiff about any concerns as to her attendance at the party at this time.

         Gaffney announced his candidacy to run for mayor against Mayor Petty in 2015. Plaintiff asserts that at the time of the party she was not aware that it was a campaign fundraiser, was not asked to make a donation, and did not know that Nguyen donated. Public campaign contribution records shows that Gaffney received a significant amount of campaign contributions at this party.

         On April 17, 2015, a potential candidate for city councilor submitted paperwork for nomination papers. Plaintiff, concerned about the potential candidate's eligibility based on residency, raised this issue with Vangjeli. In response, Vangjeli raised his voice at Plaintiff for questioning him about it.

         On April 30, 2015 Rushford provided Plaintiff with a letter raising his concerns about her behavior and performance (the “Warning Letter”). In the Warning Letter, Rushford warned Plaintiff about issues with her attendance, failure to appropriately request time off, and unprofessional or insubordinate behavior towards Vangjeli, partly as a result of Plaintiff's concerns regarding the potential candidate's nomination papers. Additionally Plaintiff was warned of a potential violation of the conflict of interest law for her attendance at Gaffney's party, which Rushford characterized as a campaign event.[2] Lastly, Plaintiff was warned that her performance had not been up to par. Rushford pointed to Plaintiff's lack of attention to detail, failure to assist customers at the window, answer phones, and work in the operations room.

         Plaintiff met with legal counsel and submitted a response to the Warning Letter on August 17, 2015 (the “Response Letter”). In the Response Letter, Plaintiff clarified what she perceived to be inaccurate statements and allegations in the Warning Letter and raised questions about overtime pay, deductions of pay for time off, the process for requesting leave, the conflict of interest laws, and the candidacy registration process. She also requested that any concerns regarding her performance or conduct be raised with her immediately.

         On September 1, 2015, Plaintiff emailed Rushford regarding Vangjeli's negative response concerning a poll worker training. Rushford did not respond to this email. Instead, the following day, Rushford called Plaintiff into his office and placed her on suspension for seven business days. Rushford gave Plaintiff a written letter outlining the reasons for her suspension (the “Suspension Letter”). The stated reasons included the following incidents, alleged to have occurred between May and August: (1) an improper mailing of a Worcester Voter Registration card to the town clerk of Bellingham; (2) failure to pay close attention to detail involving the processing of confirmation forms, as witnessed by Vangjeli; (3) entering inaccurate voter information into VRIS resulting in a voter being listed as 128 years old; (4) failure to comply with a request by the Secretary of State's Office that Plaintiff remedy the above inaccurate voter information, which resulted in the voter not being able to vote in the primary and; (5) failure to follow Vangjeli's directions to send letters to poll workers by using incomplete addresses and appointing two workers to the same position. Plaintiff was also informed that failure to return to work with an improved attitude and performance could result in further discipline, including termination.

         Plaintiff denies receiving any reprimand from Vangjeli, and alleges that she was not aware of the improper mailing to the town of Bellingham or the improper mailings to poll workers. She further asserts that she was never asked to remedy the inaccurate voter registration but only to place an RMV request. Although the Suspension Letter stated that Plaintiff had become “increasingly resistant to constructive criticism, ” Plaintiff asserts that she had not been spoken to about her performance during the time between the Warning Letter and the Suspension Letter.

         Plaintiff returned to work on September 14, 2014 and met with Rushford, Pamela Callahan, and Defendants counsel, William Bagdley, Jr. (the “Meeting”). At some point during the Meeting, Rushford became angry, asked if Plaintiff could be suspended until after the November election, and left. Plaintiff states that Callahan and Bagdley encouraged Plaintiff to apologize to Rushford. After the Meeting, Plaintiff was sent home on administrative leave for the remainder of the day. She returned to work the following day and was assigned tasks in the basement of City Hall.

         In October, Plaintiff mailed 300 copies of notices to poll workers for the 2015 election providing an incorrect date for the deadline. Additionally, 200 of these notices required inspectors to arrive at their designated poll locations at the wrong time. Plaintiff had mail merged these notices and sent a final product to Vangjeli and Emmons for review prior to mailing them. Vangjeli did not reply and Emmons stated they looked fine. As a result of this error, Plaintiff was terminated on October 15, 2015. She was provided a termination ...


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