EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 7, 2013

City lawyer: Dismiss health director complaint

METHUEN — The state attorney general should throw out a wage complaint filed against the city by former health director Brian LaGrasse, says a lawyer representing the city.

LaGrasse’s lawyer filed the wage complaint Sept. 23, two months after the city was late in paying him roughly $14,500 in wages and benefits following his July 1 layoff.

The complaint represents a first step toward a potential lawsuit against the city and City Council Chairman Sean Fountain, according to lawyer Elise Hoffman, who is representing LaGrasse.

In response, the private law firm representing the city sent a letter to the attorney general’s office last week requesting that the complaint be dismissed, in part, because it incorrectly interprets state wage law in an attempt “to unfairly take advantage of the city’s good faith efforts to promptly pay (LaGrasse) all wages owed following his layoff.”

According to the wage complaint, LaGrasse was laid off July 1 and received his final $800 paycheck two days later. He was then paid $13,773 in unused vacation and sick time on July 18.

Hoffman told The Eagle-Tribune last month that state labor law requires that a discharged employee be paid all wages and benefits on their last day. Hoffman said LaGrasse is seeking $29,000 in the wage complaint for the delayed payments.

In the city’s response letter, Kopelman and Paige lawyer Darren Klein wrote that state labor law is intended “to prevent unreasonable detention of wages.” LaGrasse was paid “just days after his discharge,” Klein wrote.

“LaGrasse has now filed a wage complaint in an attempt to unfairly extract attorney’s fees and unwarranted treble damages from the city despite the fact that there is no evidence that his wages were unlawfully withheld for an unreasonable period of time,” Klein wrote. “His only contention is that these payments were not made on the precise date of his discharge.”

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