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September 29, 2013

Former health director demands $145K

Claims councilor's comments were defamatory; now suffers from anguish

METHUEN — Former health director Brian LaGrasse is demanding $145,000 from the city for damages suffered after the City Council reduced his salary to $1 — effectively eliminating his job.

In a four-page letter, LaGrasse’s lawyer argues that he was wrongfully discharged and that the city broke state labor law by failing to pay him all wages and benefits on his last day of work. The letter also claims that City Council Chairman Sean Fountain defamed LaGrasse in comments published in the Sept. 1 edition of The Sunday Eagle-Tribune.

“The defamatory remarks in the newspaper, the loss of his job and the Wage Act violation have caused Mr. LaGrasse mental anguish, personal humiliation and extreme financial harm,” wrote lawyer Elise Hoffman.

Hoffman is seeking $145,000 from the city plus legal fees. She sent the letter to Fountain and Methuen Human Resources Director Ann Randazzo on Sept 9. The city’s private law firm, Kopelman and Paige, responded in writing Sept. 18.

“Please be aware that the city has reviewed your letter and has determined that no further action in response thereto is required at this time,” wrote Kopelman and Paige lawyer Mark Reich.

On Friday, Fountain said he was advised not to discuss the demand letter. “I can’t comment on that,” said Fountain.

In addition to the letter, Hoffman filed a wage complaint with the state’s attorney general’s office last week. After reviewing the complaint, the attorney general will determine whether an investigation is necessary.

The wage complaint represents a first step toward a potential civil lawsuit against the city and Fountain, Hoffman said. If a suit is filed, Hoffman said it will include claims for defamation, wages and wrongful discharge.

“I am pretty confident that if I can’t get anywhere with the city, I will file suit,” said Hoffman. “It’s likely, unless I can serve the best interest of my client some other way.”

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