STOCKBRIDGE -- One day after town meeting voters approved a $120,000 defense fund in anticipation of possible legal action, former town employee Scott Muir's attorney filed a federal lawsuit accusing the town of wrongfully terminating his client.
After Muir was acquitted at Berkshire Superior Court last Jan. 28 of 19 counts alleging that he sexually molested five young girls while employed as a counselor at the former Stockbridge Plain School, which closed in 2004, the town's Select Board reinstated him but then placed him on administrative leave with pay. Muir had held two part-time positions as the town's facilities manager and emergency services director.
Following a closed-door meeting of the Select Board on March 11, Muir was terminated.
The lawsuit, filed May 20 at U.S. District Court in Springfield, targets the town as well as Select Board Chairman Stephen Shatz as defendants. It seeks Muir's reinstatement to his positions as well as payment of back wages since he was dismissed.
Shatz, a retired attorney, declined to discuss the lawsuit this weekend pending consultations with Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares, who was not available for comment.
According to Attorney Jeffrey T. Scrimo, of the Lynch Scrimo law practice in Lenox, the suit was filed in federal court because, he contended, the town had violated Muir's 14th Amendment rights of due process as well as state law pertaining to confidentiality on personnel issues.
The lawsuit also contends that news coverage in The Berkshire Eagle following Muir's termination compromised Muir's ability to gain employment elsewhere. The story was also reported in the Boston Herald and other media outlets across the state.
Muir had been suspended without pay on May 19, 2012, after he was arrested and arraigned at Central Berkshire District Court on the assault charges. He was released on $10,000 bail pending his trial in Berkshire Superior Court.
After he was acquitted this past January, the town paid him $83,600 in back wages and benefits.
Scrimo has described his lawsuit as a constitutional civil rights case affecting a government employee. "The allegation is in the context of continuing stories in newspapers, and the town provided information within the context of a court case in which Scott was exonerated," he stated.
From 2002 to 2007, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District employed Muir as a student support coordinator at the Plain School in Stockbridge and at the new Muddy Brook Elementary School in Great Barrington.
On March 12 of this year, The Eagle reported the Select Board's vote to terminate Muir's employment, based on a brief statement by Shatz and a comment from his attorney at the time, William A. Rota of Pittsfield.
"In doing so," Rota stated, "they disregarded the fact that Scott was found not guilty of all criminal charges against him." Citing Muir's "four and a half years of unblemished service to the town," the attorney declared that "Scott intends to pursue all legal remedies available to him, in the hope that he can correct this injustice, and clear his good name."
Rota also detailed the executive-session hearing before the Select Board that included Muir and Town Counsel Miyares. "My client had the opportunity to present his case," Rota said.
He described the town's position, as presented during the meeting, that Muir was an "at-will employee" who can be terminated without explanation.
But, Muir's attorney added, the Select Board also stated that it was dismissing him "with cause because of concerns the community might have with him in the building."
When asked why he thought the town ended Muir's employment based on two different legal justifications, Rota responded: "I believe they are anticipating a lawsuit."
On March 12, Shatz, while declining to discuss the reasons for terminating Muir, said: "We believe we were well within our rights to do so." Miyares responded with a "no comment" when contacted by The Eagle.
Rota detailed the executive-session hearing before the Select Board that also included Muir and Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares.
"My client had the opportunity to present his case," Rota said.
According to Rota, "they also said they were terminating him with cause because of concerns the community might have with him in the building." The attorney declared that Muir is "entitled to his jobs and wants things to go back to the way they were before he was arrested."
A section of Massachusetts General Laws states that if municipal employees are found not guilty of criminal charges, they are to be reinstated and are entitled to back pay and benefits.
Information from masslive.com was included in this report.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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