Ray Duckler: Alleged verbal abuse drives road agent toward court
The lawsuit mentions nothing about towel-snapping near the showers.
But everything else sounds like stuff from a boys’ locker room. That’s why the ex-foreman says he’s suing the current road agent, an elected official accused of acting like an insensitive teenager.
The suit says the boss, Barnstead road agent Chris Carazzo, verbally abused his right-hand man, Richard Niolet of Concord, with an onslaught of gender-based taunts. So many, Niolet claims, that he lost sleep.
And gave up his job.
As a result, a gender discrimination suit is scheduled for federal court, brought by Niolet against Carazzo and the board of selectmen he says let the abuse happen. Niolet claims that Carazzo used racial slurs as well, but the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights said the statute of limitations had passed on that subject, so it’s not part of the lawsuit.
But the commission, in findings released May 31, did find probable cause on Niolet’s gender and retaliation
complaints. That allowed the case to move to federal court for a full trial, and it’s expected to be heard in Concord in the fall of next year, said Benjamin King, Niolet’s lawyer.
Niolet’s grievances against Carazzo and the town of Barnstead were documented in three letters he wrote to the board of selectmen in 2009-10, all of which were included in the court file. He claims Carazzo bumped him from foreman to laborer as a form of retaliation.
“I will no longer tolerate this kind of treatment or retaliation by him any further,” Niolet wrote in one of the letters. “It is physically affecting my health and mental wellbeing as well. Before something happens a change needs to be made.”
Before continuing, let’s get the ugly part over with, the part about what Niolet claims Carazzo called him and said to him on the job.
(Note: parental discretion is advised.)
Gay. Fag. Bitch. Dumbass. Ass----.
Also, the suit alleges, Carazzo referred to Niolet as “Sally,” and told him to “take (his) skirt off and be a man.”
(Okay, bring the kids back.)
Could this be true? Could an official with so much responsibility, in charge of construction and maintenance of Barnstead’s roads, a person chosen by the town’s residents, throw around these words and thoughts with the nonchalance of filling a pothole?
War of words
If you believe Niolet, Carazzo has no business representing the town. If you believe Carazzo, whose lawyer says his client denies everything, then Niolet is unfairly tarnishing a man’s reputation.
Carazzo’s attorney, Brian Cullen of Nashua, spoke for his client and said, “The case is still in litigation, so I’m really stuck with just telling you that he steadfastly denies that he made any of these statements at all. He’s looking forward to finally getting the opportunity to actually put his defense on.”
But Niolet swears by the charges in writing, which, for the most part, he let do the talking for this column. He sought an investigation by the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, which said there was probable cause to move forward with the lawsuit.
The commission spoke with five members of Carazzo’s crew and heard varied testimony, from confirmation of the charges, to believing Carazzo had been joking, to a denial they had heard anything that could be construed as gender harassment.
“Sufficient evidence of sex/gender harassment and retaliation was provided in the form of written documentation and witness statements to substantiate the complaint’s allegations,” the commission’s report read.
This was a long time coming, a process that started four years ago. Niolet began working for the town years before Carazzo was elected road agent. The suit says Carazzo began his attacks in 2009, shortly after he and Niolet had established what the latter described as a solid working relationship.
“When Mr. Carazzo became road agent, he needed someone in the department to be sort of a righthand man, a friend,” Niolet wrote to the board of selectmen in July of 2009. “He chose me out of the group to be that friend. We seemed to get along well.”
What caused such a rift, wider than any crack in any street in town?
Niolet’s writings to the board detail what he considered a hostile environment. He said Carazzo failed to discuss his plans and projects for the department. He said Carazzo wouldn’t tell him about new employees and never included him in the hiring process. He said Carazzo failed to tell him when he was leaving work early, even though Niolet, as the foreman, was in charge in Carazzo’s absence.
Then came treatment that led to the suit, Niolet claims. The following lines were uttered by Carazzo toward Niolet, according to Niolet’s letters.
“Dude, you’re being a bitch, just let it go and stop complaining.”
“Take (your) skirt off and be a man.”
“Stop being such a perfectionist; it’s gay.”
“His sexual slurs, there is just no excuse for them,” Niolet wrote to the board. “Everyday, I have to go to work now with a sickened stomach at the thought of what I will have to endure from him again.”
‘It’s just unfortunate’
The board’s response?
After Niolet’s second letter, Carazzo was told in a letter, now included in the court file, “that in referring to employees or any persons, you should not use words such as gay, fag, or bitch.”
I asked David Kerr, board chairman when Niolet sought action and currently the vice chairman, whether the board had a right to sanction an elected official. And if so, should the board have sought stronger measures, beyond providing what it described as “general instructions concerning the methods and manner of performing your job as town road agent.”
Kerr said he couldn’t respond fully.
“I’d like to say something, but since it’s still a pending matter, I really can’t discuss the case,” Kerr said. “It’s just unfortunate that things could not have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction before it got to the point that it has.”
Meanwhile, Niolet is trying to move forward. He quit his job with the Barnstead Highway Department in the spring of 2010 and said in a brief conversation last week that he finally found a new job earlier this year, as an equipment manager. He said he lost his house and boat due to more than 2½ years of unemployment.
He’s said he’s seeking monetary compensation.
“There are so many forms of retaliation and verbal ridicule and belittling comments, that I could fill this letter 10 pages,” Niolet wrote in a letter to the board, dated three years ago. “As I said, my only alternative is to be forced to resign from my employment and let Carazzo win the match once again.”