Backus, Meyer & Branch, LLP
Resolution for Fired Workers
Hooksett settlement: The pair had been terminated along with two others for gossiping about their boss.
By GRETA CUYLER
Special to the Union leader
Hooksett has paid $205,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by two former employees who were fired for gossiping about their boss.
Former Assessor Sandy Piper and former Code Enforcement Officer Michelle Bonsteel received money for backpay, compensatory damages and attorney fees.
According to the settlement agreement, Hooksett has paid Piper a total of $140,000, including $55,000 in lost pay, $49,401 in compensatory damages and $35,599 in attorney fees. The town paid Bonsteel $44,501 in compensatory damages and $20,499 in attorney fees.
Piper and Bonsteel were fired by the town council in April 2007 after an attorney's investigation determined the women had been gossiping about Town Administrator David Jodoin.
Discussing the settlement last night, Piper said, "I wanted it done. There's more to life than the bickering and pettiness that goes on with politics. Life goes on."
As part of the settlement, both former employees agreed to waive any rights under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act The town denied any liability or wrongdoing in either case.
"I'm glad it's over," said Town Councilor Michael Pischetola, who was not on the council at the time of the firings. "I believe that everybody who was involved is happy with the judgment"
Shortly after the firings, the town council released a statement calling the women's actions "insubordinate" and "dishonest"
Taxpayers will not be on the hook for the settlement which is being paid through the town's liability insurer, the Local Government Center.
At the same time Piper and Bonsteel were fired, the council fired two other employees. Jessica Skorupski and Joanne Drewniak. Both women filed lawsuits against the town, and each received a $65,000 settlement earlier this year. In all, the firings cost the town's insurance company more than $330,000.
The four women had nearly 50 years of combined service to the town. All had positive performance reviews.
Skorupski went on to find full-time employment as a dispatcher with the Goflstown Police Department In January, Goffstown named her "Employee of the Year."
According to the settlement agreements, both Piper and Bon-steel agreed never to apply for a job with the Town of Hooksett again.
Bonsteel's case was different from the others. In August 2007, the council reversed its decision to fire her by a vote of 5-1 and reinstated her with back pay and a letter of reprimand. Seven months later, in March 2008, Bonsteel resigned. At that time, she said she had accepted another job in New Hampshire, but declined to say where.
She was leaving the town on good terms, she said then, but after her reinstatement, the job had been difficult and awkward at times.
Bonsteel could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Hooksett agreed to remove Piper's termination letter from her employment file and give her a favorable letter of recommendation, according to the settlement
"The majority of the community feels the four of us should never have been terminated," Piper said. "That's all I care about, that I can hold my head up in the community."
Last week, Town Administrator David Jodoin announced he will leave Hooksett to take a job as administrator in Pembroke beginning Dec. 1.
He will earn $72,000 in Pembroke, $18,000 less than he has been earning in Hooksett. Jodoin said he's looking forward to an easier work schedule and the opportunity to spend more time with his family.
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