Former town manager settles discrimination suit against Stonington

Posted May 10, 2012, at 6:10 p.m.

STONINGTON, Maine — Stonington officials have agreed to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit with a former town manager who had accused selectmen of refusing to consider his requests for “reasonable accommodations” for an injured back.

The terms of the proposed settlement between former manager Howard Willinghan and the town are not being disclosed by either party, per the agreement. But Stonington residents recently voted during a special town meeting to spend $12,500 to cover part of the settlement.

Jonathan Brogan, the Portland-based attorney handling Stonington’s case, said the $12,500 represents the town’s deductible on its insurance policy with Maine Municipal Association.

“We did reach a settlement, both sides are satisfied and we agreed to keep the settlement [amount] confidential,” Brogan said. The settlement will not be official until all of the paperwork is complete, however, the agreement is expected to nullify a trial scheduled for next month in U.S. District Court.

Willinghan’s federal lawsuit alleged that in the fall of 2007, Stonington selectmen forced him to resign as town manager several weeks after he had informed them about serious back problems he was suffering.

He claimed that town officials were unwilling to accommodate his disability while he sought additional treatment and, rather than considering his requests, asked for his resignation in October 2007. Willinghan’s accommodation requests included working from home with scheduled office hours and appointments, or four to six weeks of unpaid medical leave while he received treatment.

Willinghan was hired as town manager in January 2007 and had received positive feedback — as well as a five-year contract extension — in the months before his back problems resurfaced. Willinghan said he had suffered a spinal injury in 1984 and already had undergone five reconstruction surgeries by the time he relocated to Maine to work in Stonington.

In court documents, town officials claimed that Willinghan’s requested accommodations were unreasonable given his prominent position within town government and the important municipal functions carried out by the manager. They also argued that Willinghan was under no obligation to resign, despite the selectmen’s request, and that he never supplied medical documentation.

The town acknowledges no wrongdoing in the settlement, which Brogan described as a “risk management” decision by both parties ahead of a trial.

Willinghan, who now lives on the other side of Hancock County in Winter Harbor, said in an interview that he was pleased that the ordeal finally was ending. He said the incident meant that he had to retire years earlier than planned.

“I’m satisfied with the overall results,” he said. “Right now I am looking forward to getting on with things.”

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