Summary ruling sought in fired chief’s lawsuit

Former Bar Harbor Police Chief Nate Young. PHOTO COURTESY OF NATE YOUNG

Former Bar Harbor Police Chief Nate Young.

BANGOR — The attorney for Bar Harbor intends to ask the court for summary judgment on the remaining six counts in a federal lawsuit filed by former Police Chief Nate Young claiming he was unjustly fired by the town in January of 2014.

Attorney Mark Franco stated the town’s intent to file a motion for summary judgment in a pre-conference memorandum filed Nov. 23 in U.S. District Court. In a summary judgment, the judge rules on the case based on the merits without the matter going to trial.

A pre-filing conference on the motion is scheduled before Judge George Singal on Dec. 21 in Portland. The purpose of the conference is to set timelines for filing motions and limits on the amount of materials submitted.

Originally, Young had cited seven counts in his complaint. The court in April dismissed a claim that Young’s due process rights were violated during the events leading to his dismissal.

Among the remaining claims by Young is that he was a victim of bias from town officials in their consideration of his termination. This claim, Franco contends, is not supported by evidence presented by Young. He cites case law stating that a town official’s prior knowledge or opinions are not sufficient to disqualify that official from hearing a matter.

The town is entitled to a summary judgment, Franco writes, because the former chief cannot present sufficient evidence to prove councilors were biased or had predetermined the outcome of the hearing.

Young additionally contends that his contract with the town was breached when he was fired. Young asserts that he could only be dismissed for “just cause.” Franco argues that the claim duplicates the allegations in Young’s claim of bias. Both, he writes, should be considered under the same Rule 80B appeal with the court coming to the same conclusion

Young alleges town councilors violated Maine’s Freedom of Access Act by holding executive sessions where his job was discussed and not notifying him as required by law. Franco disagrees, citing an exception in the statute requiring officials to invite the employee to attend only if there are charges against the employee or if there is an ongoing investigation regarding the employee. Again, Young cannot produce evidence that this was the case, Franco contends.

Young further alleges that he was discriminated against under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Maine Human Rights Act. In court documents, Young has claimed alcoholism as his disability.

“[Young] has not, however, identified any major life activity which was substantially limited as the result of his alcoholism,” Franco writes. “To the contrary, he has asserted quite strongly that at all times he was able to perform his job and that he did perform his job well throughout his career as reflected in the positive reviews contained within his personnel file.”

Young instead asserts that the perception of town officials was that he had a disability, Franco writes. Young, according to Franco, did not consider himself to be an alcoholic until he sought treatment in the fall of 2013. At the time, Young was on administrative leave while the town conducted an investigation into an incident involving Young’s interactions with officers in his department responding to a suspicious vehicle report.

“There is absolutely no evidence that the town ever considered the fact that Nathan Young was an alcoholic in making any employment decision about him,” Franco writes. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the town believed Young was “substantially impaired in his ability to perform his job,” there was no mention of his alcoholism at the town council hearing that upheld his firing nor was there any evidence of the town’s perception presented in the discovery process, Franco adds.

“Mr. Young will not be able to come forward with sufficient evidence to generate a trial-worthy issue that he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA or that he was discriminated against as a result of this alleged disability,” Franco argues. “Because the analysis is the same under the Maine Human Rights Act, the town of Bar Harbor is entitled to summary judgment on both counts of the complaint asserting discrimination.”

Finally, Young claims he was retaliated against for taking a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Calling for summary judgment on this issue, Franco contends that Young produced no testimony during the discovery process that taking a leave of absence played any role in his firing.

If the court doesn’t grant Franco’s motion for summary judgment, the lawsuit will most likely to go to trial. In early November, Franco filed a motion to separate nonjury trial for one of Young’s claims, arguing that evidence presented could prejudice the jury in their consideration of the former chief’s other allegations. The town withdrew that motion on Nov. 24 after Franco and Young’s attorney Gregg Frame agreed the matter would be heard without a jury.

However the court decides, the matter should be resolved in the upcoming year, according to Franco.

“The good news is that this case will be decided in 2016 either way, either by trial or summary judgment,” he said.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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