Fired chief suit hits state court, seeks job back, cash

ELLSWORTH — Former Police Chief Nate Young’s lawsuit against the town of Bar Harbor is back where it started: Hancock County Superior Court.

Young on Monday filed a three-count complaint alleging the town acted improperly when he was dismissed from the job in January 2014.

Young, through his attorney Gregg Frame, first filed a civil complaint against the town in the state court in March 2014, alleging he was discriminated against and that town officials acted illegally during the process leading to his dismissal and his subsequent appeal to the Town Council.

In response, Mark Franco, the attorney representing Bar Harbor, successfully argued some of the issues were best resolved in federal court. In April 2014, the case was moved to U.S. District Court in Bangor. One year later, the court dismissed Young’s claim that his due process rights had been violated.

On June 27, the court granted in part a motion for summary judgment filed by Franco which dismissed Young’s claims that he was a victim of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Maine Human Rights Act due to his alcoholism and that he was fired for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to seek treatment.

The federal judge also dismissed without prejudice Young’s claims for review of the town’s decision to fire him under Maine Rule 80B, breach of contract, and that town councilors violated Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, stating these issues were best heard in state court.

In the recent state court filing, Young alleges the February 2014 decision by the Town Council to uphold his being fired by the town manager “was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, legally erroneous and is unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” He further alleges councilors violated state law and town policy by denying his Rule 80B administrative appeal. Young, on this count, is asking the court to overturn the decision to fire him, return him to his job as police chief and award back and front pay and other damages.

In his breach of contract claim, Young claims town officials violated his employment agreement, which states he could be fired only “with just cause.” Here, he is seeking relief that includes reinstatement, back pay and attorney’s fees.

Young was terminated following an investigation into a September 2013 incident involving a well-being check by Bar Harbor police on a truck parked at night at the closed Town Hill Market. Young was the sole occupant of that vehicle. On Oct. 1 of that year, he was placed on administrative leave with pay while an investigator hired by the town looked into the incident.

The investigator later concluded that Young was intoxicated when officers arrived to conduct the well-being check. Based on the investigator’s report, then-Town Manager Dana Reed fired Young on Jan. 22, 2014.

Young also is alleging town councilors held 12 executive sessions where his employment was discussed. He contends the state’s Freedom of Access Act requires that he be notified of such proceedings so he has the opportunity to attend.

“As a result of the Town Council’s actions in holding secretive executive sessions in clear violation of Maine law, Mr. Young suffered damages, including termination of his employment as chief of police without due process of law and loss of income as a result,” Frame wrote in the complaint.

On this count, Young is asking the court for relief that includes, but is not limited to, civil penalties under state statute regarding freedom of access violations. According to the statute, a municipality where an officer or employee violates freedom of access laws is liable for a fine of not more than $500.

Frame, in the complaint, argues that the town investigator’s conclusion was wrong and based in part on media coverage of Young’s decision to seek treatment.

“Despite the conspicuous absence of any objective evidence, the investigator concluded that Chief Young was intoxicated on the evening of Sept. 25, 2013 (a conclusion reached with the assistance of after-acquired media reports that trained on Chief Young’s decision to seek alcohol counseling after the stress of the investigation had made his life unbearable) and that he had ordered his officers to leave,” he wrote.

Young also has the option to appeal the federal judge’s decision to dismiss the other counts of his complaint. As of Wednesday, no appeal had been filed, according to the First Circuit Court of Appeals website.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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