Court Clerk Sues New Lebanon For $139k
by Thaddeus Flint
A former Court Clerk with the Town of New Lebanon has initiated a lawsuit against the Town, the Town Board, Town Board Member Douglas Clark and two Town Justices and is demanding $139,000 as a settlement for what she believes was “unlawful termination from employment.”
Diane Reynolds-Brown was a Court Clerk with the New Lebanon courts from December 2007 until January 19, 2012, at which time her two year appointment was terminated in a letter signed by Town Justices Jessica Byrne and Jack Nevers. According to the Claim, Reynolds-Brown was “terminated without any due process.”
[private]The Notice of Claim from the law firm of Girvin & Ferlazzo, which was sent to Town Supervisor Mike Benson on February 14, said that Byrne and Nevers stated in Reynolds-Brown’s termination letter that “Based upon the difficulties the Court has been experiencing with your service as a Court Clerk and the most recent incident of insubordination involving you and myself, which have been documented in your personnel file, Justice Nevers and I have unanimously agreed to terminate your employment with the Town of New Lebanon Justice Court, effective immediately.”
The Claim then states that “Immediately following her termination, Ms. Reynolds-Brown reviewed her personnel file and could not locate any documents that memorialize any “difficulties the Court has been experiencing with [her] service as a Court Clerk” or any reference to “a recent incident of insubordination. As a result, it is clear to Ms. Reynolds-Brown that her termination was a pretext for unlawful discrimination / retaliation in violation of state and federal law.”
The “difficulties” the Court was having with Reynolds-Brown could possibly have stemmed from a complaint she filed with the New York State Department of Labor, Public Employees Safety and Health Bureau (PESH) in 2011 in regard to working conditions. A PESH inspector came to investigate in November of 2011.
According to Reynolds-Brown’s attorney, Salvatore Ferlazzo, “During that inspection, Town Board Member Douglas Clark threatened to terminate Ms. Reynolds-Brown’s employment because she complained to PESH. According to Ms. Reynolds-Brown, this comment was witnessed by the PESH investigator. After Ms. Reynolds-Brown reported this threat to her superiors, including Judge Byrne, Board Member Clark sent an email dated November 17, 2011, in which he admitted that he ‘did say something to the effect that [he’d] like to see Ms. Brown fired’ during the PESH inspection.”
The Notice of Claim also outlines “numerous violations of the wage and hour requirements of the New York State Labor Law and the Fair Labor Standards Act.” It is alleged that Reynolds-Brown’s work week came to more than 40 hours on several occasions and yet she did not receive overtime payment. Supposedly the Town did, though, “bank” some of her hours. This is “prohibited under the Labor Law…this practice is intended to avoid the Town’s obligation to pay Ms. Reynolds-Brown premium overtime wages,” states the Claim. Ferlazzo references a letter from the previous Town Bookkeeper, Anita Crosby, which enumerates time banked, as proof of this practice. It is to be noted that Crosby was herself recently fired by Benson for being a “no-show” employee.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Claim also states that Justice Byrne reduced the actual number of hours worked by Reynolds-Brown immediately before her termination. “To the extent that the Town was aware of the fact that Ms. Reynolds-Brown worked these hours, it has no discretion to reduce her hours, and Judge Byrne’s act of doing so is a clear violation of the Labor Law. Furthermore, Ms. Reynolds-Brown believes that her objection to the wage payment practice of Judge Byrne and the Town may have been a factor in the decision to terminate her employment,” the Claim states.
After her termination, Reynolds-Brown requested a payment for unused vacation, sick and personal time. She has not yet received anything. The Town can disqualify an employee from such entitlements if they are fired for cause. However, if Reynolds-Brown was terminated unlawfully, that money would be due to her as well.
Reynolds-Brown’s attorneys, however, are looking for much more than that. “Our client demands a total amount of $139,000.00 to resolve all potential legal claims against the Town, Town Board, Douglas Clark, Judge Byrne and Judge Nevers,” writes Ferlazzo.
An email request to Town Supervisor Benson for comment was not returned by press time.[/private]