Pittsfield settles with former police officers who sued over hiring practices, promotions
Editor's note: This article was updated on July 14, 2017.
PITTSFIELD — The city has settled the second of two federal suits brought forward by former city police officers alleging, among other things, retaliation for raising concerns regarding hiring practices within the department.
That information comes on the heels of the disclosure that the city settled an earlier suit with former Pittsfield Police Officer Mark Lenihan for $120,000.
The details of the new settlement between Pittsfield and now-retired police officer Christopher Kennedy were not available Thursday.
Pittsfield City Solicitor Richard Dohoney said Thursday the city and department declined comment on the matter.
In his suit, Kennedy alleged he was passed over because of his age and for reporting his belief that the son of a Pittsfield Police captain falsely claimed veterans status on a Civil Service exam.
Kennedy, represented by attorney Timothy Burke of Needham, said he was "wrongfully investigated" in order to discredit him and subjected to "a very intimidating and hostile work environment."
The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in late August 2015, sought up to $600,000 in damages for loss of compensation and benefits, damage to his personal and professional reputation, emotional distress and legal fees and expenses.
The suit named the City of Pittsfield, former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and current and former members of the Pittsfield Police Department as defendants.
In court documents, the city claimed Kennedy was denied promotion due, in part, to a lack of supervisory experience and his receipt of four letters of reprimand, a suspension and a demotion over the course of his career.
Kennedy, who served more than 27 years on the force, alleged he was being encouraged to retire to create an additional position on the force for new officers.
He claimed shortly before the results of the October 2012 Civil Service exam were to be released, a lieutenant gave him a copy of the state retirement guide and told him he, "should read this," despite his having no plans to retire.
When the exam scores were released in March 2013, Kennedy, who scored an 81, was placed at the top of the list for promotion to sergeant.
In the suit, Kennedy claims he began to be "targeted and heavily scrutinized," after the scores were released. He said he was written up in April 2013 for allegedly requesting to delay a missing person report entry into the National Crime Information Center computer system for about an hour, in case the person returned before then.
The suit alleged the purpose of the report against him was twofold. First, to discredit his job performance and ability to make decisions; and second, to compel him to respond to the report in writing, providing an excuse to pass him over for promotion or force him into early retirement.
Kennedy addressed his concerns with Bianchi, Wynn and now-retired Capt. David Granger, telling them all he felt he was being discriminated against in an effort to prevent his promotion.
He further claims in November 2013, he learned that Granger's son was placed at the top of the eligibility list due to a preferred veteran status on the Civil Service exam, despite having no qualifying military service.
Kennedy aired his concerns to others in the department, including Lenihan. Both Kennedy and Lenihan claim they were ostracized for being whistleblowers about the younger Granger's status.
The city has said an investigation revealed that Civil Service had mistakenly merged the records of Granger and his son — who share the same name — and credited the younger man with his father's veteran status. It was later corrected.
The error only was uncovered through an inquiry sparked by the concerns raised within the department, according to the suit.
"Had (Kennedy) not spoken out about ... Granger's son's wrongful position on the appointment list for new hires ... he would potentially have been hired before other candidates," part of the suit reads.
At the time, Granger's son did not apply for a position with the department, according to the city. However, he is now a member of the department.
Kennedy said after word began circulating in March 2014 that he was going to be bypassed for promotion to sergeant, he confronted Wynn about it.
Wynn he had "no intention," to promote him, despite the formal interviewing process not having been completed, the suit alleged.
But the city said there were valid reasons to deny Kennedy the promotion.
An April 2014 letter, written and signed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, noted that Kennedy was reprimanded four times between 1989 and 2008 for offenses including "discourtesy, profanity and unreasonable force," "abuse of sick time," "failure to respond to a call," and, "failure to uphold professional responsibilities, conduct unbecoming an officer and criticism of officers."
That last reprimand, in March 2008, led to Kennedy being demoted from provisional sergeant to patrol officer and bypassed for promotion to permanent sergeant. The Civil Service Commission upheld that bypass in 2009, according to the letter.
Kennedy also served a one-day suspension in 2004 for "conduct unbecoming and discourtesy," the letter reads.
His attorney noted his client also had received numerous awards, commendations and letters of appreciation throughout his career.
Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit in U.S. District Court involving the Pittsfield Police Department remains open.
That suit, filed by Pittsfield officer Jennifer Breuckmann claims workplace discrimination and harassment and is seeking up to $1.2 million in damages.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
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