Former Cohasset Town Manager Mike Coughlin filed at Norfolk Superior Court this week saying he wants his job back. In his suit, dated December 5, Coughlin names the Town of Cohasset, The Board of Selectmen (Ted Carr, Paul Carlson, Diane Kennedy, Fred Koed and Leland Jenkins) and Peter Decaprio, individually and in his capacity as Chairman of the Board of Water Commissioners. Harold L. Lichten of Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C. is representing Coughlin.
The complaint is as follows:
- This is an action arising out of the termination of the plaintiff, Michael Coughlin,
as Town Manager of the Town of Cohasset, Massachusetts. As set forth below, Mr. Coughlin’s termination violated the Massachusetts Whistleblower Statute, the terms of the Cohasset Town Manager Enabling Statute, and the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law. More specifically, Mr. Coughlin, while serving as Town Manager for the Town of Cohasset, voiced repeated concerns over the fact that the Chairman of the Cohasset Water Commission was engaging in improper and illegal activity in 1) attempting to retain an attorney to represent the Commission who was at the same time performing private legal work for the Chairman, Mr. Decaprio, and 2) being heavily involved in, and supportive of a proposal to sell water rights owned by the Town of Cohasset to a large privately owned water company which had ties to a hedge fund operated by Mr. Decaprio, thereby creating an apparent conflict of interest in violation of the Massachusetts Ethics Laws. These concerns resulted in Mr. Decaprio publicly threatening Mr. Coughlin with termination if he persisted in his complaints, and shortly thereafter, Mr. Coughlin was terminated from his position as Town Manager. The plaintiff seeks compensatory and injunctive relief restoring him to his position as Town Manager.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
- In August of 2011, the plaintiff Michael Coughlin was hired to be the Town Manager of the Town of Cohasset, Massachusetts. Mr. Coughlin has served as Town Manager for several other towns, and has a law degree.
7. Between August of 2011 and January of 2012, Mr. Coughlin was informed by the Board of Selectmen that his performance as Town Manager was going very well, he performed all of his duties properly, and indeed he was praised for his response to Hurricane Irene in the fall of 2011. He was also informed by the Board of Selectmen that one of his tasks was to work on the issue of ensuring good and proper service to the residents of the Town of Cohasset with respect to the Water Commission and water rates.
8. Subsequent to that, and more concerning, the plaintiff became aware that Mr. Decaprio was heavily involved in, and was supporting, a move to issue a RFP permitting a private water company to buy the water operations of the Cohasset Water District for a 20-year period, when at the same time, Mr. Decaprio’s hedge fund, which he managed, had a significant financial interest in one of the companies seeking the bid. In addition, Mr. Coughlin became aware that Mr. Decaprio had held meetings with that company outside of the bid process. Mr. Coughlin believed that this was a significant conflict of interest which required disclosure and recusal of the RFP process.
9. As Mr. Coughlin began working on the issues relating to the Town Water Commission, in the late fall of 2011, he became aware of two matters which he believed were of great concern. First, he became aware that the Chairman of the Cohasset Water Commission, who was elected, had hired an attorney for the Cohasset Water Commission who was performing private legal work for Mr. Decaprio in his role as a citizen. Mr. Coughlin, as Town Manager, believed that this retention of Mr. Decaprio’s private lawyer, to do town business, was a clear conflict of interest and raised the matter on numerous occasions.
10. Immediately upon Mr. Coughlin raising these issues, Mr. Decaprio, a well-known resident and leading figure of the Town of Cohasset, stated clearly – in a threatening manner – that if Mr. Coughlin persisted in his objections, Mr. Decaprio would have him “removed” as Town Manager of the Town of Cohasset.
11. Mr. Coughlin declined to stand down from the matter.
12. Immediately thereafter (within days), the Board of Selectmen voted to go into executive session after its regular meeting on or about February 7, 2012. Mr. Coughlin was given no notice that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss his (Mr. Coughlin’s) removal from his position as Town Manager, nor was he provided with an opportunity to be heard. Notwithstanding the requirements of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, and on information and belief, the Selectmen launched into a full discussion of the plaintiff and his competency to continue as Town Manager.
13. Immediately following the February 7, 2012 executive session of the Board of Selectmen, plaintiff was informed by the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen that the Board of Selectmen had decided to terminate him as Town Manager, if he would not accept a severance package/separation agreement.
14. Several weeks later, in early March of 2012, the Board of Selectmen did terminate plaintiff’s employment with the Town of Cohasset. With respect to the reason for his termination, the Board of Selectmen informed the plaintiff that the termination was for no specific cause. The plaintiff was never given a list of reasons for his termination.
MASSACHUSETTS WHISTLEBLOWER STATUTE
15. The actions of the defendants as set forth herein constitute a violation of the Massachusetts Whistleblower Statute, M.G.L. ch. 149 §185, in that plaintiff was terminated for engaging in conflict protected by the statute.
OPEN MEETING LAW
16. The actions of the defendants as set forth herein constitute a violation of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, in that the Town went into executive session to discuss the plaintiffs’ ability to continue as Town Manager, without giving him notice or the opportunity to be heard, as required by the Open Meeting Law.
VIOLATION OF THE COHASSET TOWN MANAGER ENABLING STATUTE
17. The defendants violated the Cohasset Town Manager Enabling Statute, by failing to provide specific reasons for the discharge of plaintiff.
TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE AGAINST COUGHLIN
18. The actions of defendant Decaprio in attempting to retaliate against the plaintiff, and attempting to secure his discharge as Town Manager, because plaintiff raised legitimate questions about the ethical conduct of Decaprio, constitute tortious interference with contractual relations.
WHEREFORE, the plaintiff asks this Court for the following relief:
- Declaratory and injunctive relief restoring him to his position;
- Awarding him compensatory and punative relief to compensate him for his lost employment, benefits and retirement;
- Attorneys’ fees, costs and interest; and
4. Such other and further relief as to this court is deemed just and proper.© Copyright 2012 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed