Update: Former police chief Reena Bucknell sues Egremont over termination
EGREMONT - Reena Bucknell, who served as the town's police chief for 15 years, has filed a lawsuit against her former employer claiming she was wrongfully fired from her position last September.
Pittsfield-based law firm Cohen Kinne Valicenti & Cook LLP, which represents Bucknell, filed the lawsuit in Berkshire Superior Court on Friday afternoon against the town, Board of Selectmen members, and the town's treasurer.
The lawsuit alleges the Massachusetts Wage Act was violated because Bucknell did not receive pay, perks and benefits due to her from her current contract, and she is also entitled to a severance agreement that was pulled back. The lawsuit requests "an amount to be requested at trial... including attorneys' fees, interests and costs."
Bucknell's attorney Leonard Cohen said the chief's requests for a settlement were declined.
"If there was any reasonable likelihood of a settlement, we would have never started this," Cohen said
Bucknell was suspended in February 2013, following a vote of no confidence from the department's then seven officers, by the Board of Selectmen. Following her suspension, the town hired a consultant to conduct a department audit, which identified concerns related to high turnover, police officer training issues, antiquated police procedures, and improper follow-through on grant application provisions.
Bucknell defended her management in a public meeting in July, but the Select Board declined her request for reinstatement to her former responsibilities.
The parties agreed on a severance package in August, but the board voted in September to terminate Bucknell, claiming she hadn't signed the agreement by a deadline. Bucknell denies there ever was a deadline.
Selectman Charlie Flynn, who has been an outspoken critic of Bucknell, said the independent audit conducted by Plymouth-based Pomeroy Resources more than justifies board's actions.
"There is so much in that report to show malfeasance, lack of management, and poor leadership," Flynn said. "There is a right way to do things and wrong way, and I think the Egremont Select Board was looking out for the best interest of Egremont when they made that decision."
The lawsuit alleges the Massachusetts Wage Act was violated because Bucknell never received pay for unused vacation days, sick days, personal days and due pay on the day of her termination.
It also asserts a breach of protocol by failing to allow Bucknell to defend herself. And it states she is entitled to a previously agreed on severance package.
The severance agreement includes 50 vacation days, 15 sick days and six personal days, and other stipulations agreed upon.
In addition, the suit alleges a breach of the covenant of good faith and the town of Egremont has unjustly enriched itself from Bucknell's service.
The lawsuit references previously undisclosed items included in the severance agreement. The lawsuit references 15 "signed copies of a letter of reference" she was due. And that "nothing would be placed in Chief Bucknell's file concerning the [board's] management study or placing Chief Bucknell on administrative leave."
The lawsuit states Bucknell didn't sign the severance agreement because "crucial provisions, which rendered it illegal" were missing.
Bucknell's legal counsel raised concerns about the letter drafted on Sept. 12, but Bucknell was fired less than two weeks later.
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