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Posted on May 17, 2018 at 10:04 AM by Elizabeth Dukes
FROM THE TOWN ADMINSTRATOR’S DESK
I write to update residents on a suit that has finally worked its way through the judicial system. The Town has reached an agreement in the form of an "offer of judgement" with a former police dispatcher and reserve officer who, in a 2016 lawsuit, alleged gender discrimination against the Manchester-by-the-Sea Police Department dating back to 2013.
As part of the resolution, the Town has agreed for its insurer to pay $500,000 to the former employee, which includes her attorney’s fees. The town’s liability insurance carrier handled the case for the Town and will be covering the cost of the agreement as well as our attorney fees.
The lawsuit alleged a number of incidents of verbal harassment and retaliatory acts toward the former employee. The suit also suggested that there were ineffective attempts to correct the harassment at the time it occurred. While the lawsuit focused its allegations against two officers, it suggested a systemic problem within the department. The plaintiff has since left the department to take a full-time police officer position in her hometown.
By agreeing to the offer of judgement, the Town accepts responsibility for the conduct of its employees.
As a town government, we need to be able to look inward, and in this instance, it was clear that the plaintiff was treated poorly, endured unprofessional working conditions, and was discriminated against based on her gender and her status as an expectant, and later, a new mother. We need to take ownership of these facts, because it is the only way to improve. While corrective actions were put into motion as soon as the offended employee came to me with her concerns in 2015, the damage had already been done.
The Town recognized the seriousness of this matter as soon as the Plaintiff made a complaint in 2015. A consultant was immediately hired to conduct an investigation. That investigation led to the discipline of two employees and a number of changes within the department. The Town hired a third-party expert to re-train all officers in the prevention of discrimination and sexual harassment, revamped its discrimination and harassment policies, and built a new women’s locker room to accommodate and protect the privacy of female employees.
In the three years since the officer's allegations, the Manchester-by-the-Sea Police Department has seen a major transformation in culture, most importantly in the hiring of a progressive new police chief in Edward G. Conley, who was formerly the commanding officer of the Chelsea Police Department’s internal affairs division. The department has also recently hired two full-time female police officers in its most recent recruit class, reiterating its commitment to diversity in its ranks.
"The Manchester-by-the-Sea Police Department is committed to upholding a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture, which is in the best interests not only of the police department but of the citizens we are sworn to serve," Chief Conley said. "As police officers, we must be held to the highest possible standards of professionalism and conduct. Our community rightfully demands this, and they should receive no less."
The good news is that we have taken significant steps to ensure this is always the case.