POWNAL — The town of Pownal and its Select Board members are fighting back against claims by former town Health Officer Leo Haggerty that he was never paid for 17 months of performing his municipal job.
Haggerty has filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Burlington against the town, its Select Board and the five individual members: Angie Rawlings, Michael Gardner, Robert Jarvis, former member Ron Bisson and Harry Percey.
Haggerty claimed under the Fair Labor Standards Act that the defendants failed to reimburse him for his work, including overtime, the lawsuit notes.
The defendants, this month in their written legal response filed in court, said they never hired Haggerty. Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s Health commissioner, appointed Haggerty to the town post, according to their written response.
The defendants also denied the claims of nonpayment. They said in court papers there was a stipend available for the health officer position, but Haggerty refused it. The written response stated the defendants offered no other compensation to Haggerty, because he refused the stipend.
The defense also maintained Haggerty failed or refused to submit any timesheets that the town had advised were needed to get his stipend.
Haggerty, in his lawsuit filed in the fall, said the town hired him as the Pownal health officer on Nov. 14, 2019, and that the five-member Select Board also served as Pownal’s Board of Health.
His lawsuit claims he was employed on an “as-needed basis with no set hours or schedule.”
Haggerty asserts no rate of pay was established and that he “routinely worked a 40-hour week in his capacity as Pownal’s town health officer.” He did not elaborate on what he did for the work in the town of about 3,260 residents and 47 square miles.
The defense also denied the claims by Haggerty that he worked 40 hours or more each week — or 160 hours or more each month. The defense does not say in its response the basis for their denials.
Haggerty noted that with Vermont’s minimum pay wage at $10.96 an hour, he believes Pownal owes him at least $29,811.20 for the 17 months of municipal work, the lawsuit said.
The defendants believe Vermont’s minimum wage did not apply during his appointment as a local health officer.
Haggerty said, because the defendants failed or refused to pay him in full for his work, they are now responsible for not just his overdue wages, but his lawyer’s fees, court costs and damages.
He also believes the defendants were “unjustly enriched by retaining the value of the services provided to them” from November 2019 to April 2021, the lawsuit said.
Haggerty and the Select Board members had a testy relationship at times during his service as health officer. The Select Board asked the health commissioner twice to remove him.
Levine sent a letter dated April 14, saying that he was removing Haggerty as town health officer. Levine said he was doing it based on a letter from the Select Board; during an executive session April 8, Select Board members voted to request that Haggerty be removed.
Levine also noted that the town had sent an earlier letter Nov. 6, 2020, and it appeared things did not improve. The state had told the Select Board to speak to Haggerty and try to work things out.
Meeting minutes for April 8 show that the Pownal Select Board came out of an executive session and called an emergency meeting of the board to consider the information the members had received behind closed doors. A motion was then approved 5-0 that a letter be sent to the health commissioner, “seeking the immediate removal of the current health officer for cause.”
The Select Board did not name Haggerty in the removal motion and provided no basis for the “cause.”
A copy of Levine’s letter back to the Pownal Select Board — and obtained by the Bennington Banner through a Vermont Public Records request — said Haggerty was removed effective when the town received his letter, records show. Levine’s letter to Haggerty directed him to send back to the state his town health officer badge.
A Banner investigation at the time showed there was at least one somewhat public dispute among Haggerty, the Select Board and a house owner on Center Street. At issue was whether Haggerty had condemned the flooded property and whether the administrative steps he took were correct, according to town and state records.
The property owner was bringing the house into compliance, records show.
The Banner also reported there were claims Haggerty was sometimes unavailable or unresponsive, even with the town providing him a cellphone.
In addition, the town maintained after the board “made decisions as a Board of Health regarding a very high priority situation, using the advice of our town attorney, [Haggerty] did not follow through with what the Board of Health decided, and instead delayed action by weeks,” the Banner reported.
Haggerty maintains he did nothing wrong and was carrying out the duties expected of a town health officer.