Bowdoinham settles with former employee for $200,000

Posted July 07, 2012, at 5:33 a.m.
Last modified July 07, 2012, at 11:27 a.m.

BOWDOINHAM, Maine — The town will pay former employee Alison Pepin $200,000 per the terms of a settlement agreement forged as a result of her civil rights violation complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The settlement, signed by Pepin and dated May 18, compensates Pepin for lost wages; emotional distress, pain and suffering; punitive damages; and attorney’s fees.

According to a copy of the recent settlement agreement provided by the town to The Times Record as the result of a Maine Freedom of Access Act request, Pepin will be paid $25,050 for her claimed damages for lost wages (less income tax deductions and her FICA responsibility) and $174,950 on account of her claimed damages for violation of civil rights, emotional distress, pain and suffering, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. Of the $174,950, $33,000 is to be paid to Johnson & Webbert LLP in attorney’s fees and disbursements.

Asked about the cost to the town, Town Manager William Post wrote in an email to The Times Record that Bowdoinham’s insurance company negotiated and paid the entire settlement.

“The only expense to the town was our $5,000 insurance deductible and $1,916 in FICA and Medicare taxes for the portion of the settlement that was determined to be back wages,” Post wrote. “Both of these amounts were covered in the regular operating budget.”

The settlement agreement stipulates that Pepin now permanently releases the town and its insurer, Scottsdale Insurance Co., “along with their officials, agents, servants, officers, insurers, attorneys and employees … of and from any and all actions, causes of action, claims, and demands,” arising from her employment with the town.

Through terms of the settlement, the town has “denied liability as a whole, and the payment acknowledged in this release was made without admission of liability which is expressly denied.”

The town also agreed to respond to requests for employment references for Pepin with a prepared letter of reference. That letter states that Pepin was hired in January 2008 as the deputy town clerk and, “because of her initiative and a strong dedication, she moved up the ranks quickly. After six months, she was elevated to the position of deputy treasurer and General Assistance administrator.”

The letter of recommendation concludes that Pepin “is a person who takes her work seriously, has a positive attitude complemented by her drive and energy, and is both a team player and a professional who wins the respect of others through her hard work, commitment and integrity.”

Also as a term of the settlement, Pepin agreed not to disclose the fact that she has entered into a settlement agreement with the town, or any of the terms of the settlement agreement, with the exception of immediate family, tax advisers and her personal attorney, or in response to administrative or judicial proceedings or when otherwise required by law.

The controversy that prompted her complaint arose after a Feb. 2, 2010, special election to fill a vacancy on the Board of Selectmen.

In a Maine attorney general’s office investigator’s report on the handling of absentee ballots for that election, obtained by The Times Record through a Maine Freedom of Access Act request, Pepin alleges that other municipal staff became aware of how she voted by absentee ballot, which resulted in a hostile work environment.

The attorney general’s office report indicates that Town Clerk Pam Ross disclosed Pepin’s vote to then-Town Manager Kathy Durgin-Leighton. Soon thereafter, Pepin took a leave of absence from her job.

Seeking public records of Pepin’s allegations related to the conditions that spurred her to file the complaint that resulted in the May 18 settlement, The Times Record requested the investigator’s report from the Maine Human Rights Commission, but it was not available by press time.

Ross pleaded no contest in October 2010 to a charge that she violated state election law related to the handling of absentee ballots. The court fined her $250 and the Bowdoinham Board of Selectmen suspended her without pay for 30 days.

In November 2010, the Board of Selectmen discussed holding a special town meeting to let voters consider appropriating $50,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance to settle the matter with Pepin. That agreement would have capped the town’s liability for damages, costs and attorney fees at $50,000 and “result in a complete and final release of the town, and its officials and employees, without implying any admission of liability,” according to the proposed warrant explanation.

The proposal ignited a heated debate among selectmen and audience members, and ultimately the matter was tabled.

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