standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — A lawsuit filed against the town by its former human resources director  claiming she faced illegal retaliation and that her rights under whistleblower and family leave laws were violated has been settled out of court for $98,500.

The four-count lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Providence in December on behalf of Nancy M. Markey, who worked as human resources director for about two years, claimed Town Manager J. Mark Rooney violated her rights as a whistleblower and rights she had under state and federal medical leave legislation, as well as rights she had under the federal Family First Coronavirus Response Act.

Terms of the settlement agreement were reached after both sides participated in a voluntary mediation session aimed at avoiding a trial. The agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongful or unlawful acts by Rooney or the town, according to terms of the agreement.

The Town Council voted unanimously to approve the agreement in late June but did not announce the vote until Monday because the town's lawyers advised not announcing the agreement until it was signed by all parties, said Town Council President Sharon Ahern on Monday.

Lawyers for Markey and the town said the agreement reflected give and take by both sides.

"Both parties compromised significantly. I think it's in the best interest of the taxpayers," said Matthew Oliverio, the lawyer who represented the town in the case.

By settling early, Oliverio said the town avoided the cost of additional legal representation, which would have started to mount if the case was decided by a judge, regardless of whether the town won the case.

Employment law claims generally involve economic damages related to the claimant's salary and livelihood and whether they found alternative employment and at what level of compensation, as well as an analysis of economic damages including pain and suffering, said Richard Sinapi, Markey's lawyer in the case. Potential settlement agreements are also based, Sinapi said, on clients' risk preference.

"My client felt it was a fair settlement and it was acceptable to the town as well and that was the compromise that was reached," Sinapi said.

Markey is now working for a school district and is "doing very well," Sinapi said.

According to the agreement, the settlement payment was broken into three components: $32,400 for unpaid wages, less applicable deductions and withholdings; $32,400 for non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering); and $33,700 for legal fees and costs.

Markey claimed, in the lawsuit, that Rooney retaliated against her after she told him she planned to report violations of COVID-19 protocols she observed in Town Hall in March 2020 as the pandemic started to take hold and wreak havoc throughout the country. The retaliation continued, the lawsuit alleged, when the town unsuccessfully contested and appealed Markey's application for unemployment benefits.

The town argued, according to Markey's lawsuit, that Markey had been terminated for insubordination and failure to follow leave and attendance policies, but a state Labor and Training Department appeal-hearing officer found Markey had followed routine steps for leaves she took and that there was no evidence of intentional wrongdoing.

Rooney did not return a telephone message seeking comment for this article but typically does not discuss matters involving employees.

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