King seeks jury trial, lawsuit says town accused him having “prurient” photo of teens by town pool

  • Adams Pool in Peterborough on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. —Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/6/2019 8:43:46 PM

Jeff King, former Peterborough Recreation director, is demanding a jury trial to rule on the three counts he has brought against the town for firing him this summer, according to court documents.

The court “action arises out of the wrongful, unlawful and unwarranted termination” of King from his position by his employer, the town of Peterborough, the lawsuit states.

King, who was terminated by the Peterborough Select Board on Aug. 19, filed a lawsuit against the town on Monday in the Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester.

He is also seeking “lost wages, employment benefits, loss of earning capacity, emotional suffering, loss of reputation, costs expenses and other damages,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges, Deputy Town Administrator Nicole MacStay accused King of having a photo that is “prurient in nature” of teen girls by the town pool on his work computer. The online version of Merriam Webster’s dictionary gives the legal definition of prurient as “marked by or arousing an unwholesome sexual interest or desire.”

King’s lawsuit claims the photo is one of many King took “as part of his duties to post pictures detailing the recreation activities of the Town and its participants.”

King was hired by the town in April 2003, according to the lawsuit, which also said, “...prior to 2019, King received numerous accolades,  congratulations and awards for the method and manner in which he ran the department and oversaw its employees.”

In all his time working for the town, the lawsuit says, King had only ever received positive feedback in his annual work evaluations, except one time in 2017 when Deputy Town Administrator Nicole MacStay “noted” three areas that needed improvement. The lawsuit does not list the negative notes on that one evaluation but says that King submitted documentation refuting the conclusion drawn by MacStay in that evaluation and then heard nothing more of it from the town. He was not evaluated in 2018 or 2019, which implied his job performance was satisfactory, the lawsuit said.

Then on July 12, “King was notified that a complaint or complaints alleging harassment had been made against him by a member or members of the Recreation Department.”

King’s lawsuit alleges he was “not shown or provided with a copy of that complaint” and was told “he had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.”

MacStay was in charge of the investigation, the lawsuit alleges, “Who upon information and belief has had no formal training or prior experience in conducting Internal Investigations.”

On July 18, King was ordered to appear at the town’s attorney’s office to be interviewed by Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett and MacStay in the presence of the town’s attorney, the lawsuit alleges, and while he was allowed to have his attorney present the attorney was “admonished that he was allowed to be there only as a witness and not as an advocate.”

During this meeting, “King was informed that there had been a complaint made but the Town refused to tell him the nature of the complaint or even who had made the complaint,” the lawsuit said. “King was required to answer all of the questions put to him truthfully under penalty of termination … but was not allowed to ask questions of his own or raise any defenses.”

The lawsuit said, King answered all of the questions truthfully.” But at the meeting was told “his work computer had been searched by the Town’s IT employee.”

MacStay then showed King “a single picture taken from King’s computer of a number of (what appears to be) teenage girls in bathing suits lounging near the Town pool,” the lawsuit said. ” ... this picture was literally one of thousands that King had taken as part of his duties to post pictures detailing the recreational activities of the Town and its participants.”

The lawsuit goes on to say that the photo was posted on the Department’s Facebook Page along with thousands of similar photographs over the years and that the parents of each of the teenage girls had signed a photo release.

However, “MacStay asserted, without a basis in fact, that the picture in question was prurient in nature,” the lawsuit said.

Following the meeting, King was told in a July 31 letter from the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen that Bartlett had recommended King’s termination and that selectmen planned to consider his termination at a non-public meeting on Aug. 6.

King asked for a continuance but was denied by selectmen who said sufficient time had been provided, yet the Recreation Committee had not yet been consulted regarding “any discipline of King despite an obligation to do so.”

At the Aug. 6 meeting, King was given 20 minutes to rebut Bartlett’s recommendation to terminate his employment. He was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses or present witnesses on his behalf, the lawsuit says, “… it was made clear that those ground rules were fixed and immutable.”

At this meeting, King raised the issue that selectmen were bound by town policy to meet and confer with the Recreation Committee and requested they be allowed into the meeting, but was denied.

The first count the lawsuit is bringing against the town is termination without cause, alleging the town fired King “for cause,” without cause. According to the lawsuit, “the Board of Selectmen’s decision to terminate King was based upon insufficient, distorted and misinterpreted information provided to it by MacStay. … the Town is obligated to ensure that there is sufficient ‘evidence’ to prove the allegations upon which it terminated King. … it failed to do so.”

The lawsuit also accuses MacStay of conducting interviews without any cross-checking, testing or validation and that she excepted hearsay and second and third-hand statements as “truthful.” “she used such statements as fact even when the individual to whom the alleged incident occurred disagreed with that assertion. ... she viewed all evidence, not based on an objective basis but on a personal and highly subjective bias.”

The second count alleges breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing. According to the lawsuit, “there was an implied agreement of employment between the Town and King which had existed for sixteen years and which the parties expected to continue into the future. ... this agreement conferred upon the Town to deal with King fairly and to ensure that any discipline was administered only after appropriate Due Process and allowing King an adequate and fair opportunity to respond and to present evidence on his behalf.”

King, in his history with the town, had “provided all of the duties required of him in both a satisfactory and exemplary manner,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says the “allegations of wrong doing, even in the light most favorable to the Town, are insufficient to warrant the termination of an employee with Kings unblemished record.”

In the third count, the lawsuit accuses the town of denying King his vested vacation pay when he was terminated.

“King, with the approval of the Town had accumulated a substantial amount of unused annual and accrued vacation time,” the lawsuit says.

Along with a jury trial, King is demanding damages from the town as well as his attorneys’ fees.

King has suffered damages, the lawsuit says, including “lost employment benefits, emotional suffering, loss of reputation, costs expenses and other damages,” the lawsuit says.

As recreation director, King oversaw two full-time staff members, three part-time staff members and 43 seasonal employees. His annual salary was $78,561.

On July 23, Bartlett confirmed King was on paid leave. He said King would remain on leave throughout a review process into “concerns” that were brought to town officials about King. Citing it as a personnel matter he declined to comment further at that time.

After firing King on Aug. 19, the town released a statement regarding the matter on Aug. 20, “This action was taken after complaints made against Mr. King led to a Town investigation which uncovered failures to follow town procedures, protocols and training. This failure has undermined, in the Town’s opinion, his ability to manage employees, and as a result he is not in the position to lead the Peterborough Recreation Department.”

When contacted Thursday, Bartlett would only say that the lawsuit has been forwarded to the town attorney.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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