EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

September 29, 2013

Former health director demands $145K

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

(Continued)

“These statements include false allegations that Mr. LaGrasse was cheating and stealing from Methuen,” wrote Hoffman.

Wage claim & wrongful discharge

Both Mayor Stephen Zanni and Methuen Community Development Director William Buckley, who oversees the city’s Health Division, have repeatedly said they have no knowledge about improprieties with the regional health grant.

The state Department of Public Health (DPH) has yet to release any documents related to the grant or the Methuen budget cuts, which The Eagle-Tribune requested more than two months ago under a Freedom of Information Request.

Among the documents DPH won’t make public is a copy of the grant itself. Last week, DPH Spokesman David Kibby said the department’s lawyers are still reviewing the documents, which the newspaper requested on July 26.

“It is being processed and we hope to have it to you as soon as we can,” Kibby said.

LaGrasse responded to Fountain’s comments in the Sept. 8 edition of The Eagle-Tribune, claiming he is the victim of a political attack and that any suggestions that there were improprieties with the grant are “clearly baseless.”

LaGrasse said he hired Hoffman as a lawyer two days after Fountain’s comments were published. Prior to that, he also filed a grievance as a result of losing his job. The grievance was denied by Zanni.

According to the wage complaint on file with the attorney general’s office, LaGrasse was laid off July 1 and received his final paycheck two days later. He was then paid $13,773 in accrued vacation and sick time on July 18.

Hoffman said state labor law requires that a discharged employee be paid all wages and benefits on their last day. Hoffman said the $29,000 LaGrasse is seeking for the delayed payments is included in his larger $145,000 demand.

Hoffman’s demand letter also outlines how city officials allegedly failed to follow the city charter when they laid off LaGrasse. He never received a written notice “stating the intent to remove him with a statement of cause,” and because he never received notice, LaGrasse was never able to request an evidentiary hearing before the City Council.

Both a written notice and council hearing are required under the city charter, according to Hoffman.

Hoffman wrote that LaGrasse’s “bumping rights” also required that he be moved to another position in the Health Division.

“Clearly, Methuen failed to comply with the mandates of the charter in this case,” wrote Hoffman.

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