Former employee suing Turning Point, director

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BENNINGTON — A former employee of Turning Point Club Inc. of Bennington is suing the non-profit addiction services organization and its director Kenneth Sigsbury.

Maria Donza filed suit in Bennington Superior Court Civil Division, contending Sigsbury had disclosed her private medical information to others at Turning Point and created "an intolerable work environment."

Donza alleges a violation of the Vermont Employment Practices Act, invasion of privacy concerning her medical information and emotional stress.

The suit, filed by attorney Mary Welford, of Welford & Sawyer of Manchester, seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, fees and costs.

In a response, filed with the court in October by attorney Kristina Brines, of Paul Frank & Collins, of Burlington, representing the defendants, the suit allegations are denied.

Brines also argues that the suit fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and that "damages suffered by the plaintiff, if any, are the result of plaintiff's own actions or the actions of a third party not in the control of the defendants."

Turning Point, which operates a center on Main Street in Bennington, provides peer-to-peer support and recovery coaching services for those struggling with addiction.



Worked in hospital


According to the suit, Donza, of Bennington, began working at Turning Point around July 2014 as an administrative assistant, and in January 2018 she was promoted to the position of peer recovery coach supervisor.

The new job involved going to the emergency department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, the suit states, and a medical clearance was required to work at the hospital.

Donza "obtained a medical clearance from her physician," Welford wrote, "and notified Sigsbury of her medical status."

The director then "shared plaintiff's private medical information with several individuals at Turning Point including volunteers and other employees," she suit alleges, and "those individuals began commenting to plaintiff about her medical status."

After the alleged disclosure created "an intolerable work environment, defendant Sigsbury went into plaintiff's work email account, copied all of her emails to himself and blocked her from access to her email account," according to the suit.

In early June, "Turning Point Club sent plaintiff a separation agreement indicating that her employment was being terminated," the suit states.

The allegations are denied by Turning Point and Sigsbury, Brines wrote in the response filing.

'Management' concerns

The complaint states further: "Upon information and belief, the funding for the peer recovery coach positions came in part from a combination of state and federal funding."

The suit adds that "during plaintiff's employment as a peer recovery coach she became concerned about the management and financing of the program and approached Kenneth Sigsbury with her concerns."

No further detail about that concern was provided in the filing, and Welford could not be reached for comment.

The defendants deny "that plaintiff approached defendant Sigsbury" about alleged concerns, according to the response filing, and "are without knowledge sufficient to admit or deny the remaining allegations contained in [that paragraph of the suit]."

Contacted Thursday about the complaint, Brines said via email, "Turning Point Club will provide no comment with respect to ongoing litigation."

The suit also contends that the defendants "discriminated against plaintiff Maria Donza on the basis of her physical limitations and disabilities," adding that the alleged discrimination was "in retaliation for her expressing concerns about the financing and management of the peer recovery program."

In addition, the suit contends that Donza "suffered from a `physical impairment' as that term is defined in Vermont's [employment practices act]," and that the defendants' "actions and omissions constitute violations" of state law.

The suit states that Donza suffered and continues to suffer economic damages for lost wages and benefits "as a proximate result of the defendant's actions and omissions."

In the response, the defendants also deny that Donza was first employed in July 2014.

They admit Sigsbury was informed of Donza's medical status but deny the related allegations. However, the defendants admit that Sigsbury "informed individuals with a reason to know about plaintiff's medical information."

In the response, it was admitted that Sigsbury accessed the Turning Point Club email account assigned to Donza, forwarded some emails to the account assigned to him and changed the log-in information.

The related allegations were denied.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal.


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