Business owner suing Franklin over discrimination asks for reform, not money
|Published: 11-28-2023 11:10 AM
FRANKLIN — Miriam Kovacs, a Central Street business owner who is suing the town over its response to hateful attacks against her restaurant, has offered a settlement deal that is light on cash but heavy on reforms she wishes the city to make.
Kovacs, who owns and operates The Broken Spoon, brought suit against Franklin in August of this year over the city’s handling of her complaints about threats and vandalism against her and her business, which she considered inadequate, and what she alleges was a partial fulfillment of her request for public documents related to those incidents.
In a letter dated Nov. 22, Michael Lewis, an attorney with Rath Young Pignatelli, the firm representing Kovacs in the suit, offered the city a settlement deal in which the only monetary awards sought would be sufficient to cover the plaintiff’s legal fees — $7,340 to date — put with several reforms to the Franklin Police Department and City Hall.
Among the reforms sought are: for the police department to implement a training program for officers regarding hate crimes; for the city and FPD to adopt and implement a three-tiered protocol for responding to hate crimes and civil rights violations as described in a memorandum issued by the NH attorney general in 2019; as part of that protocol, to provide the name and contact information for the city’s civil rights designee by Jan. 1; for the creation of a police oversight commission to address civilian complaints; for Kovacs to receive at least 10 days’ notice if she or her business is to be discussed in a public meeting in a manner that might negatively affect her reputation; and that the city, and several specific current and former city officials, undergo training on the state’s public information laws.
The letter asks for a response from the city within 10 days. On Nov. 27, five days after sending the letter, Lewis said he hadn’t yet received a response from the city, but he expects the offer to be considered.
“Ultimately, our case is pro-law enforcement, just directing law enforcement to act lawfully and protect the people who need protection,” Lewis said.
The settlement offers a result that “is something good for Miriam and for Franklin,” Lewis said.
“Ultimately, the question of whether to litigate further or settle is a question of fiscal policy,” Lewis said. “The assessment of how to proceed in response to our letter is a question that indicates public officials’ attitudes about how to deploy public resources.”
The letter was sent to the city’s attorney, Paul Fitzgerald of Wescott Law. Fitzgerald did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Both Franklin Mayor Jo Brown and City Manager Judi Milner indicated they hadn’t yet seen the letter and declined to comment.
Kovacs said her suit was never about money.
“I’m not trying to profit off of harm done to me. I want to feel safe and no amount of money can do that. I know that what I’ve experienced is kind of why a lot of people don’t report hate crimes, or why people are hesitant because of backlashes.”
Kovacs said she hopes her suit will make others feel empowered to assert their own rights, and to ask for protection from police when they feel they need it.
“Someone has to stand up to all of this,” Kovacs said.
In light of other attacks that have been occurring around the country, including the president of a Detroit synagogue who was stabbed to death in October and the August murder of a shopkeeper in California who confronted a man tearing down her Pride flag, Kovacs said she has felt the need to keep the doors of her restaurant locked.
“My business has been closed,” Kovacs said. She’s planning to pivot to catering and ticketed events, noting there are several parallels between what she’s experienced so far and what Cedar Glen, California, shopkeeper Laura Ann Carleton reported before her murder. In both cases there were previous reports of property damage, and police response that wasn’t satisfactory to the complainant.
“Franklin has made it publicly clear that they do not stand by me, they do not support me. I think it’s silly for anyone to assume their safety,” Kovacs said. “I’m not willing to gamble with my safety. I’m not willing for my story to end in the mouths of Franklin city leadership. I don’t feel safe with them, and that’s incredibly problematic.”
Kovacs suggested that people in public spaces practice vigilance, and they consider who else is in a shop before they leave them alone with whoever is working there. “If they’re in a store and they’re uncomfortable leaving the store owner by themselves, linger back a little bit, let them know they’re there. It’s not a bad thing to look out for your neighbors.”
Kovacs’ complaint with the city revolves largely around freedom of speech and her right to request information from her city government. Kovacs is of Jewish and South Asian heritage, and she asked for police to investigate after she and her business were the target of threats by white nationalists. She alleges that the request was not taken seriously, and that instead she suffered discrimination and retaliation when she spoke out about her experience.
Kovacs’ suit includes complaints that the mayor and city manager made disparaging comments about Kovacs in public meetings, and that her requests for public information did not produce all the documents she expected.These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.