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Former police department administrative assistant sues town of Weare, claims she was retaliated against

Last modified: 7/16/2015 12:58:29 AM
The former administrative assistant who claimed she was assaulted by former Weare police chief John Velleca in fall 2013 is now suing the town.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, Jennifer Posteraro and her attorney, John Sherman, say members of the police department conducted two separate internal investigations into her conduct, both after she filed protective orders against Velleca. Posteraro and her attorney say these investigations violated the department’s own policies.

The suit also accuses members of the department of retaliating against Posteraro when she returned to work in March 2015, making her work environment “hostile” and the conditions “so difficult and intolerable that a reasonable person subjected to them would feel forced to resign,” according to court documents.

Posteraro’s suit marks the fourth time since 2010 a former employee of the Weare Police Department has sued the town. Former police lieutenant James Carney sued the town last month, claiming town officials had violated his civil rights with an internal investigation in 2013, and the town recently settled for $260,000 with former sergeant Joe Kelley, who sued the town claiming he was wrongfully terminated. In 2013, the town settled with former sergeant Louis Chatel for $274,999.67, after he filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, alleging members of the police department harassed and intimidated him.

The settlements were paid through the town’s insurance company Primex.

Primex has increased Weare’s yearly liability premium nearly $200,000 in the past year. The rate went up from $193,146 last year to $386,295 this year, but that cost isn’t solely on Weare. It is in part due to the fact Weare is part of a risk pool with other towns, whose own legal matters have also contributed to the increase, said Beth Rouse, the town’s finance administrator.

First investigation

In September of last year, Posteraro filed a restraining order against Velleca, alleging that they had engaged in a brief sexual relationship and that after it started, he had become increasingly violent and erratic toward her.

According to her suit, Posteraro said after she filed the restraining order, she was placed on paid administrative leave. Soon after, Velleca made allegations against her that she had threatened to disclose their relationship “as leverage for more favorable treatment at work.”

Later, town officials conducted an internal investigation about Posteraro’s conduct, without telling her who had made the initial complaint against her or sharing the accusations for which she was being investigated, according to court documents. Posteraro says this lack of information and the “broad scope of inquiry given the lack of notice” was a violation of the department’s own policies.

Posteraro was on administrative leave for about six months, and the police department eventually informed her they had determined the allegations against her were unfounded, according to court documents.

Velleca resigned in late October.

But Posteraro said she was treated differently when she returned to work this spring, and that her work environment at the department became “hostile.” Department officials changed Posteraro’s job title and whom she reported to. She was moved from a private office to the receptionist’s area that “had limited to no heat” and gave her a personal locker located in a bathroom, according to court documents.

Posteraro said she was given limited access to the building, department computers and records and was prohibited from doing aspects of her old job, and that some department officials told her they planned to install a video camera in the hall facing her desk. In one instance, the suit states a Weare officer told Posteraro “he was recording an interaction with her at the department without first requesting her permission to record.”

Second investigation

In early April, Posteraro obtained a final protective order against Velleca. She later discussed Velleca with two police department officials, including then-Sgt. Frank Hebert, who was recently promoted to the rank of lieutenant. In mid-April, she told Hebert she was afraid of the former chief, as she had heard from other people that he had shown up at the police department, according to court documents. Hebert told Posteraro he had also heard that Velleca had been in the building at some point, and “indicated that if there was a violation of the order by Velleca, he would see that it was investigated and prosecuted, if warranted,” according to the suit.

Hebert then asked Posteraro to put what she had heard about Velleca in writing, so that he could take it to Chief Sean Kelly, and she wrote an email to that effect, according to court documents.

The next week, Kelly told Posteraro that she was again being placed on paid administrative leave, saying that the department was investigating alleged “false statements” made to Hebert, according to court documents. Posteraro said department officials “refused numerous requests” for more information about the complaint, including not telling Posteraro who had made the complaint against her. Soon after, she was placed on unpaid administrative leave and department officials didn’t notify her of the status of the investigation within the required 30 days, according to court documents.

Posteraro says all of these actions violated the police department’s own policies, and she was retaliated against in part because her protective order against Velleca.

Posteraro is still on unpaid administrative leave from the department and is suing the town on one count of retaliation and another count of wrongful termination. She is seeking damages for an unknown amount including back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Posteraro’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen)


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