14th Amendment at heart of Scott Muir's lawsuit
LENOX -- The heart of the federal case filed by a local attorney for dismissed Stockbridge town employee Scott Muir is his ability to work, as guaranteed by "property rights" and "liberty interests" sections of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Muir, who was terminated from his two jobs by the Stockbridge Selectmen on March 11 during a closed-door hearing, has lost out on at least 11 potential positions "for which he is well-qualified" because he has been "stigmatized" by reports published by The Eagle and other news media on the town board's action, said Jeffrey Scrimo. Muir is the former facilities manager and emergency services director for the town.
Scrimo acknowledged that the news media were "100 percent within their rights" to report on the Select Board's decision.
His client failed to receive responses to his applications from a mix of private and public employers in Berkshire County, Scrimo stated during a recent interview in his Lenox office.
"As a direct result of the publication," the complaint alleges, "Muir was terminated from two part-time volunteer positions he had held for 15 to 20 years."
"To us, that's actually harder evidence of the stigmatization," Scrimo said, noting that his client had volunteered for the town's fire department and for the Marian Fathers during the annual Mercy Sunday religious gathering.
The attorney filed a two-count civil lawsuit at U.S. District Court in Springfield on May 20 against the town of Stockbridge and the Select Board represented by its chairman, Stephen Shatz. After 94 minutes of deliberation on Jan. 28, Berkshire Superior Court jurors found Muir, a former student support counselor employed by the Berkshire Hills Regional School District at the local elementary school, not guilty of sexually assaulting five female students between 2003 and 2006.
"Mr. Muir wants to work," Scrimo told The Eagle. "As the U.S. Supreme Court has said, the right to work is one of the core individual rights and liberties. He's been stigmatized and lost his current job, so his hope is that he can work and support himself and isn't forced into a situation where he's now dependent on the government for a living."
The primary goal, the attorney added, is Muir's reinstatement to his work for the town.
"The reasons for Muir's termination were false" according to state law, Scrimo's complaint charges, and "the reasons provided not to reinstate him were arbitrary and capricious."
In the complaint, Muir seeks a jury trial and a finding, based on the 14th Amendment, that his termination was "unconstitutional and void," reinstatement to his town position, an "adequate post-termination hearing before a neutral decision-maker," and "damages, costs, interest and his reasonable attorney's fees," as specified by federal law.
The complaint details Muir's "constitutionally protected liberty interest in his name, reputation, honor and integrity as a public employee with respect to his ability to work." Alleging that the town violated his client's due-process rights under the 14th Amendment, Scrimo argued that Muir has suffered damage to his reputation, loss of income, and the right to obtain employment.
As the attorney explained, state law covering municipal employees asserts a "property interest" that was violated when his client's reinstatement was refused by the town. That violation, he said, forms the basis for a portion of the legal claim that Muir's constitutionally protected rights were denied.
Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares and Select Board Chairman Stephen Shatz both declined comment.
After the complaint is officially served through a summons to the defendants, Scrimo said, the town can file a response. What follows is an extended "discovery phase" for information-gathering.
As outlined in the complaint, Muir's position was eliminated by the school district in June 2007 after it reorganized. Four months later, he was hired by the town as facilities manager; he was named emergency services director in January 2008.
Muir was suspended without pay in May 2012, a month after his arrest and arraignment on the sexual assault allegations. Scrimo noted that his client had received no negative performance reviews nor any disciplinary reprimands.
Commenting that government employees have additional protection compared to the private sector, Scrimo asserted that "the government always has to address the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, mostly through the 14th Amendment."
Muir was informed by letter on Feb. 19, 2014, that no decision had been made on a return to his jobs. The town did include a check of $83,000 for back pay and benefits.
The next day, his attorney, William Rota of Pittsfield, wrote to the town counsel, pointing out that Muir was awaiting his reappointment, as required by state law after a municipal employee is acquitted of criminal charges.
Then on Feb. 21, Muir was placed on indefinite administrative leave, with no reason stated. The letter also informed Muir that he would be called to a hearing "to discuss your discipline or dismissal."
Scrimo emphasized that the letter gave his client no basis for the action nor any specific allegations of wrongdoing.
The complaint states that during a March 11 Select Board hearing, no accusations of violations involving employee rules or policies were presented, nor was there any discussion of poor job performance.
Instead, the complaint continues, Muir was fired "without cause" and then, in a separate vote, was dismissed "for cause" based on alleged noncriminal conduct during his previous employment with the school district.
The lawsuit also contends that the town offered "no post-termination hearing to clear his name and-or gain reinstatement," as required by state law.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
2002-07: Scott Muir is employed by the Berkshire Hills Regional School District as an elementary school Student Center Support Coordinator, a position eliminated by a reorganization of the district in June 2007.
October 2007: Muir is hired by the town of Stockbridge as facilities manager; in January 2008, he also is appointed emergency management director.
April 2012: Arrested and arraigned on charges that he sexually assaulted five female students between 2003 and 2006 while employed by the school district, Muir is suspended without pay from his town positions a month later.
Jan. 28, 2014: A Berkshire Superior Court jury takes 94 minutes to find Muir not guilty of all 19 counts.
Feb. 20: After receiving a check for back pay and a letter stating that his re-employment with the town had not been decided. Muir, through his attorney, requests reinstatement in writing.
Feb. 21: The town informs Muir that he has been placed on indefinite administrative leave and that a Select Board hearing would be scheduled on his job status.
March 11: At a closed-door Select Board meeting attended by Muir and his attorney, William Rota of Pittsfield, he is terminated "without cause" and also "for cause" based on alleged non-criminal conduct during his previous employment by the school district.
March 12: News media, including The Eagle, report on Muir's termination based on Stockbridge Select Board statements; subsequently, he loses two long-held volunteer positions for the town and for the Marian Fathers religious order.
May 20: Muir, through attorney Jeffrey Scrimo, files a lawsuit at U.S. District Court in Springfield seeking reinstatement to his town positions and payment of unspecified damages and legal fees.
Sources: Eagle archives; U.S. District Court Case 3,14-cv-30092-MAP
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