United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ROBERT M. EATON, Plaintiff,
TOWN OF TOWNSEND, JAMES M. KREIDLER, JR., & GORDON CLARK, Defendants.
ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 25)
Sorokin United States District Judge
Eaton has sued the Town of Townsend, the Town Administrator
(James Kreidler), and a member of the Board of Selectman
(Gordon Clark) for claims arising out of his employment as
the Townsend Police Chief. Doc. No. 22. The defendants
collectively moved to dismiss part of the Amended Complaint.
Doc. No. 25. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to
dismiss, Doc. No. 25, is ALLOWED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
March 2016, Robert Eaton was hired to be the Townsend Police
Chief. Doc. No. 22 ¶ 5. He began his official duties on
May 1, 2016. Id. ¶ 17. At all relevant times,
James Kreidler was the Town Administrator for the Town of
Townsend. Id. ¶ 3. Additionally, the Townsend
Board of Selectmen (“BOS”), which is “the
chief executive office of the Town of Townsend, ” was
comprised of Gordon Clark, Cindy King, and Carolyn Smart.
Id. ¶ 2.
alleges that shortly after beginning his employment,
“Defendants Clark and Kreidler sought to coerce
Plaintiff Eaton to take adverse actions against certain
current and former employees of the Townsend Police
Department.” Id. ¶ 19. According to
Eaton, these employment actions included demotions and denial
of promotions for individuals with whom Kreidler and Clark
had personal issues. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. At one
point, Kreidler “told Plaintiff Eaton that his office
was ‘bugged' and that another Selectwomen, [sic]
Carolyn Smart, was reading Plaintiff Eaton's emails,
” which Eaton alleges “was made with the intent
to threaten and intimidate” him. Id. ¶
27. In August 2016, “Defendant Kreidler informed
Plaintiff Eaton that the BOS was not satisfied with Plaintiff
Eaton's job performance and that he probably would not
make his probation period.” Id. ¶ 30.
Eaton alleges this was done in retaliation for him
“refusing to take improper action against past and
present members of the Townsend Police Department as
requested by Defendants Clark and Kreidler.”
August 29, 2016, Eaton met with Smart. Id. ¶
31. In this meeting, Eaton expressed his concerns that
Kreidler had filed an unmerited complaint against an employee
in an attempt to support Clark's personal vendetta.
Id. During this meeting, Eaton also “asked
Selectwoman Carolyn Smart whether the BOS was satisfied with
his performance and she responded that she had no idea why
Defendant Kreidler would have told Plaintiff Eaton that he
wasn't likely to complete his probationary
position.” Id. ¶ 32.
September, Eaton had a meeting with Clark and Kreidler.
Id. ¶ 33. During this meeting, Clark and
Kreidler again pressured Eaton to take adverse employment
actions against various individuals and pressured him
“to issue a derogatory and false press release
regarding an investigation conducted by the prior Townsend
Police Chief.” Id. ¶ 34. Eaton refused to
comply with either of these demands. Id. ¶ 35.
Clark then told Eaton that there was a “large ongoing
investigation that is going to shake up the police
department, ” which Eaton understood to be a threat.
Id. At the end of this meeting, Eaton spoke to Clark
alone. Id. ¶ 36. Eaton told Clark that the
actions he had requested Eaton to take were improper, to
which Clark “became irate.” Id. In
November, Kreidler initiated an investigation of Eaton and
the Townsend Police Department, alleging improper use of the
Massachusetts Criminal Justice Information System
(“CJIS”). Id. ¶ 38. Eaton alleges
this investigation was initiated in retaliation for him
“making various public statements and refusing to issue
press releases.” Id.
November 19, 2016, Eaton spoke with Smart and “informed
her that Defendant Kreidler had created a toxic work
environment that was interfering with Plaintiff Eaton's
work environment and was harming Plaintiff Eaton's
health.” Id. ¶ 40. Eaton alleges that
during that conversation, as well as on various other
occasions, he “requested the reasonable accommodation
that he not be required to communicate with Defendant
Kreidler but rather that he report directly to the
BOS.” Id. Plaintiff Eaton was never granted
this accommodation. Id. ¶ 42. Shortly after the
November 19 conversation, Kreidler became aware of the
complaints and concerns expressed by Eaton to Smart.
Id. ¶ 41. According to Eaton, “Defendant
Kreidler's harassment towards Plaintiff Eaton noticeably
increased” thereafter. Id. A few days later,
on November 23, 2016, the BOS issued a press release which
stated that Eaton had resigned as police chief and which
contained the “false impression that the Townsend
police officers were conducting unlawful background checks
and that Plaintiff Eaton was covering it up.”
Id. ¶ 44.
January 18, 2017, Eaton met with Smart and Kreidler.
Id. ¶ 47. During this meeting, “Defendant
Kreidler threatened Plaintiff Eaton, repeatedly stating that
Plaintiff Eaton should be criminally charged and that if he
had been Town Manager he would have already fired Plaintiff
Eaton.” Id. At this meeting,
“Selectwoman Carolyn Smart repeatedly stated that
Plaintiff Eaton was acting ‘crazy.'”
Id. ¶ 48. Kreidler also referred to Eaton
“as being insane and stated that he had concerns
regarding Plaintiff Eaton's emotional stability.”
Id. ¶ 50.
February 8, 2017, “the Massachusetts Department of
Criminal Justice Information Services issued a report finding
that none of the Townsend Police Officers had violated the
law, ” as they had been accused of doing by Kreidler in
November. Id. ¶ 51. Two days later, on February
10, Eaton issued a press release publicizing the finding and
noting that no police officers had violated the law.
Id. ¶ 52. In this press release, Eaton also
stated “that the BOS and Defendant Kreidler were
engaged in a strategic assassination of the Townsend Police
Department and the reputations of its officers.”
Id. Eaton asserts in the complaint that he made the
statement “as a citizen commenting on a matter of
public concern and with the intent of correcting the false
information that [had] been placed in the public domain by
the BOS and Defendant Kreidler.” Id. ¶
53. The press release was published on the Townsend Police
Department Facebook page and is attached to the complaint.
Id. ¶ 54.
after he issued the press release, the BOS put Eaton on
administrative leave. Id. ¶ 55. On February 13,
2017, Eaton was admitted to the hospital “for
approximately two weeks and diagnosed with Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder” (“PTSD”). Id.
¶ 56. Eaton states that “the worsening of [his]
PTSD symptoms and his hospitalization were the direct result
of the harassment and hostile work environment created by
Defendants Clark and Kreidler and being placed on
administrative leave.” Id. Eaton states that
he “had first been diagnosed with PTSD in 2007 and
began to suffer worsening PTSD symptoms in October
2016.” Id. ¶ 57. Eaton alleges that at
the time he was hired, the BOS knew of his PTSD diagnosis
because he disclosed it during a psychological evaluation
completed as part of his hiring process. Id. ¶
58. However, shortly after February 13, 2017, Eaton, through
counsel, notified the Town that he had been hospitalized for
PTSD. Id. ¶ 63.
April 6, 2017, Kreidler sent Eaton notice that the BOS would
conduct a disciplinary hearing. Id. ¶ 64. The
BOS held the hearing on April 21, 2017. Id. ¶
65. Eaton “was undergoing outpatient treatment for his
PTSD and appeared at the hearing against medical
advice.” Id. ¶ 66. Both before and during
the hearing, Eaton's counsel provided the BOS with
letters from Eaton's doctors confirming that he
“was being treated for PTSD and that he should not
testify at his disciplinary hearing until approximately May
25, 2017.” Id. ¶ 67. At the hearing,
“Eaton requested that the BOS continue the hearing
until a date on or after May 25, 2017.” Id.
¶ 70. The BOS denied this request. Id. ¶
73. Eaton alleges that had the hearing been continued, he
would have been able to “personally participate in the
hearing and to testify in his defense.” Id.
¶ 80. Eaton further alleges that the hearing was a
“sham, ” given that the BOS circulated a draft of
their Findings of Fact prior to the hearing and that at the
end of the hearing, they voted unanimously to accept the
Findings of Fact and terminate Eaton's employment without
discussion. Id. ¶ 77-81.
filed a charge of discrimination with the Massachusetts
Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”).
Id. ¶ 84. He now alleges nine claims in the
amended complaint: breach of contract (Count I), breach of
good faith and fair dealing (Count II), federal and state
claims for discrimination on the basis of his PTSD diagnosis
(Counts III and IV), federal and state retaliation claims
(Counts V and VI), federal and state civil rights violations
(Counts VII and VIII), and intentional interference with
contract or advantageous relationship (Count IX).
Id. ¶¶ 85-128. Attached to the complaint,
Eaton submitted his employment contract, a description of the
job duties for the Townsend Chief of Police, the November 23
press release from the BOS, the February 10 press release
from him, the notice of administrative leave he received from
the BOS, the notice of the disciplinary hearing he received
from the BOS, the Findings of Fact from his disciplinary
hearing, his official notice of termination, and his MCAD
complaint. Doc. No. 22-1.
defendants have collectively moved to dismiss part of the
amended complaint. Doc. No. 25. They moved to dismiss three
of the four possible theories of discrimination in Counts III
and IV but concede that the amended complaint plausibly
states a claim under one theory. Id. at 4-11. They
also moved to dismiss both retaliation claims (Counts V and
VI), both civil rights claims (Counts VII and VIII), and the
intentional interference with contract or advantageous
relationship claim (Count IX). Id. at 11-25. Eaton
opposed. Doc. No. 32. The Court heard arguments from the
parties on February 20, 2019.
survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a
complaint “must provide fair notice to the defendants
and state a facially plausible legal claim.”
Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12
(1st Cir. 2011). In other words, the complaint must
“contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true,
to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (quotation marks omitted); see also
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). “The plausibility standard is not
akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks
for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.” Id. at 678 (citation omitted).
“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible
claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that
requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.” Id. at 679
(citation omitted). This “highly deferential”
standard of review “does not mean, however, that a
court must (or should) accept every allegation made by the
complainant, no matter how conclusory or generalized.”
United States v. AVX Corp., 962 F.2d 108, 115 (1st