EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

November 13, 2013

Lawyer: Health director will sue if city doesn't settle

METHUEN — Former Methuen health director Brian LaGrasse will sue the city for wrongful discharge and related damages if city officials do not give him his job back or agree to a settlement, LaGrasse’s lawyer says.

The City Council voted in June to cut LaGrasse’s $73,149 salary to $1, effectively eliminating the position of health director. LaGrasse’s attorney, Elise Hoffman, claims the city wrongfully discharged LaGrasse and violated state labor law when it was late in paying him roughly $14,500 in wages and benefits following his July 1 layoff.

Hoffman said she began initial discussions in late October with the private law firm Kopelman and Paige, which represents the city. Hoffman said she hopes the talks will lead to a settlement negotiation sometime this year.

“Nothing has been put on the table from their end,” said Hoffman. “The whole reason for speaking is to try to solve the matter so we don’t have to litigate. ... I’m hopeful that there will be some type of settlement conversation.”

Hoffman sent the city a $145,000 demand letter in September. The letter alleged that LaGrasse was wrongfully discharged by the city and defamed by City Council Chairman Sean Fountain in the Sept. 1 edition of The Sunday Eagle-Tribune.

Mayor Stephen Zanni confirmed yesterday that a lawyer with Kopelman and Paige has been in touch with Hoffman. Zanni said he will meet with the city’s legal team next week to discuss the matter.

“My understanding is if there is no settlement, they’re going to go with a lawsuit,” said Zanni. “It looks like a lawsuit will be filed, because quite honestly, the city cannot agree to a $145,000 settlement.”

Hoffman filed a wage complaint with the state Attorney General’s office on Sept. 23, or two months after the city was late in paying LaGrasse roughly $14,500 in wages and benefits following his layoff.

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