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UPDATE: Former Superintendent Sues Oxford Schools

Judith Palmer files suit seeking more than $5,000.

UPDATE: This story was updated on Sunday morning after we learned that there is a video on the Valley Independent Sentinel's website that shows Oxford school board attorney Michael McKeon stating that two separate business managers, Art Poole and Rosemary Hanson, found that Judith Palmer was not owed any money by the school district. This is contrary to claims made in the lawsuit as stated in the article below. (Click here to see the video on the VIS website.)

Also, we've attached meeting minutes from a March board meeting when this was discussed and copy and pasted the relevant materials to the story below. It also has information that is contrary to what is claimed in the lawsuit, particularly that Poole and Hanson both came to the conclusion that Palmer is owed no money.

Original story:

Former Oxford school chief Judith Palmer has filed a lawsuit against the Oxford public school system seeking and more.

Oxford received the lawsuit in the Town Clerk’s office on Thursday; the suit says Palmer is owed $4,200, a claim that has come before and been denied by the current school board.

The lawsuit states that Palmer has suffered mental and emotional stress and has incurred legal fees. She’s seeking damages for lost money, compensatory damages, and punitive and consequential damages. She is seeking double damages in excess of $5,000 and attorney’s fees, costs, interest and “such other relief as the court may deem just and equitable.” She claimed a trial by jury at Litchfield Superior Court in the suit filed in court this week. 

The lawsuit states that in Palmer’s final paycheck, she was shorted by $4,200. As school chief – in which Palmer’s base salary was $132,444 – Palmer was to be paid biweekly payments of $5,170. In her last check, Palmer states in the lawsuit she was paid just $970.80.

Palmer's departure with Oxford schools in the summer of 2010 was bitter and caused quite a stir among many supporters and those who sided with the school board that was accused of orchestrating a plan to oust Palmer, who finally resigned and took a job as superintendent of schools in her town of residence, Winsted, Litchfield County, where she is still head of schools.

In an attempt to recoup the money she was owed, Palmer filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor, and a wage enforcement officer for the state concluded that she was owed the money, the lawsuit states.

The suit also states that former interim Oxford Business Manager Arthur Poole met with the wage officer and agreed that Palmer was owed $4,200.

Palmer’s suit further claims the current school Business Manager Rosemary Hanson and attorney Michael McKeon, representing the school board, agreed to pay Palmer the money she claimed she was shorted.

On April 16, McKeon wrote a letter to the Department of Labor agent stating that the school board refused the payment, the lawsuit states. The school board discussed the issue in meetings, saying it was a frivolous claim and that Palmer was not owed any money.

The suit states the Labor Department representative closed the case on April 25 and found the school board in violation of failing to pay Palmer properly. The suit does not state whether the school board faced any consequences for that alleged violation.

As a rule, the school board does not discuss pending litigation or personnel matters in public. The board has put a line item on its agenda for Monday that state it will discuss this issue and that it may be discussed behind closed doors in executive session. It is unclear how the board plans to respond to the issue.

Discussion about this from March meeting minutes:

Report of the Chairman

Mrs. McKinnon introduces Attorney McKeon to discuss possible action regarding a pending wage claim. The Board’s Former Superintendent, Dr. Judith Palmer has filed a wage claim with the State of Connecticut Department of Labor claiming that she was not paid in full after her resignation last summer from the Oxford Board of Education. The Claim was first brought to her attention by the former Business Manager, Art Poole. The agent showed up at Central Office demanding a check for payment without any notification. After speaking with the Business Manager the agent was not given a check. It was further determined that we did not owe anything. The agent was asked to return and meet with the new Business Manager, Rosemary Hanson and Attorney McKeon. Mrs. Hanson did an excellent job attempting to explain that Dr. Palmer had been paid in full and that there were no monies owed.

Mrs. McKinnon deferred the matter to attorney McKeon. Mr. McKeon states that the claim rose out of an incorrect belief on Dr. Palmer’s behalf. The agent was not receptive to Mrs. Hanson’s explanations and decided not to close the file on the case. Mr. McKeon implied that the claim may be brought over to the Attorney General’s Office which will in turn initiate litigation that will cost the board much more than the original claim. Mr. McKeon gives the board two options: either, settle the claim and pay in full or decided to pursue the claim with a possible victory in spite of the legal costs that pursing this claim may bring. Mrs. McKinnon asks Attorney McKeon about a letter that was received from Dr. Palmer’s Attorney. The board replied with a spreadsheet further explaining the invalidity of the claim. After some time with no response the agent showed up with this claim stating that it had been formally filed with the state but the board was not provided with a formal complaint letter. The Wage Enforcement Agent has stated that that they are unwilling to provide us with a formal complaint and are also not required by law to provide one. Mr. McKeon stated that if we were to pursue the claim we would ultimately be able to receive a copy of the formal complaint. Mr. Lavin asked if it is the Wage Enforcement Agent’s responsibility to investigate the claim or to take one side and pursue it. Mr. McKeon answered by stating that if the agent believes that there is a credible basis for a complaint, it is the agent’s job to pursue it. Mrs. McKinnon is concerned that if the board chooses to pay the amount that we don’t owe that we may be setting a precedent that would expose the board for future claims. Mr. McKeon agrees with Mrs. McKinnon’s concern and that it is a valid and possible one.

Mr. Macchio believes this may also set a precedent for much higher claims in future. Mr. Lavin asks if there is a Statute of Limitations on wage claims. Mr. McKeon responds by stating that he does not have an answer for this specific question. Mr. Neary asks if we have a clear idea of what the claim is. Mr. McKeon responds by saying “yes.” Mr. Neary also asked for clarification on the claim ensuring that Mrs. Palmer was being paid prospectively and that may be the basis for her confusion. Mrs. Hanson further explains how an employee is paid prospectively. Ms. Guillet asks if the dates on the stub are accurate if you are salaried employee and Mrs. Hanson replies by stating that the payroll system is accurate for an hourly employee and that there is no option in the system for a salaried employee further suggesting that this may also be playing a part in the confusion. Mr. Ozkowski adds that the payroll system is not a great concern considering it has been in place for 20 years without ever creating confusion with other employees. Mr. Neary expresses that he believes that Dr. Palmer is wrong in her belief due to the fact that we have explained ourselves and have not received a valid response suggesting otherwise. Mr. Neary wants to state that the Board of Education is not being treated fairly and professionally by the Wage Enforcement Agent.

Mr. Reid states that if we know how many weeks she worked and how much she was paid for these weeks that there should be no question as to whether or not we owe money. Mr. Neary Asks the attorney how much time he as roughly spent in this matter. Certain members of the board agree that pursing the claim will be expensive. The board also believes that settling can cause additional claims in the future. It was also stated that settling may be favorable due to the excessive legal costs. Mrs. McKinnon agrees that due to the difference in opinion of the Board that three motions will be necessary to make a decision. An attempt to move motion to pay claim failed.

Motion to Compromise Pending Wage Claim
Work with Attorney McKeon to reach a compromise to pay pending wage claim from former Superintendent of Schools Ms. Palmer.
MOTION by Mr. Reid, second by Ms. Guillet
Yea: Ms. Guillet, Ms. Hellauer, Mr. Reid
Ney: Mrs. McKinnon, Mr. Neary, Mr. Lavin, Mr. Macchio, Mr. Oczkowski
Abstentions: NONE
Motion was not carried.

Motion to Deny Pending Wage Claim
The board should authorize its legal counsel to deny the former Superintendent’s pending wage claim.
MOTION by Mr. Oczkowski, second by Mr. Neary
Yea: Mrs. McKinnon, Mr. Neary, Mr. Lavin, Mr. Macchio, Mr. Oczkowski
Nay: Ms. Guillet, Ms. Hellauer, Mr. Reid
Abstentions: NONE
Motion was carried.

Ed Spruck November 21, 2011 at 12:45 AM
Interesting that no one has commented on the posted video. Clearly this issue belongs in small claims court, not in the court of public sympathy.
Will Wilkin December 03, 2011 at 10:05 PM
Hi Bonnie, You elaborate on this below but your link takes us to the US Dept of Labor, not state. As for its "Wage and Hour Division" it is a Division of the Dept of Labor. There is no "Department" of Wages and Hours in the federal or state govt. In both cases, the wages division is part of the DOL. But although you linked us to the feds, you did state you meant the State of Connecticut. Here is the link to the CT Department of Labor, Division of Wage and Workplace Standards. Is this what you meant when you wrote "the Dept of wages and hours through the State of CT"? http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/wgwkstnd/wgemenu.htm
Will Wilkin December 03, 2011 at 10:38 PM
http://www.ct.com/news/advocates/latest-news/nm-nh40ncwagetheft-20110927,0,6488189.story QUOTE: Last year the DOL concluded its investigation into Spezzano's three businesses, which resulted in police hauling Spezzano away. Blair Betraccini is the investigator responsible for bringing Spezzano in. He says it is extremely rare for an employer to get arrested for a wage violation. "We concluded the investigation, and when Mr. Spezzano made no effort whatsoever to pay what he owed his workers, that's when I wrote the warrant for his arrest. We reached the point where that was the only alternative that was left to us," Bertaccini says. "I don't know the exact statistic, but I could easily say that 90-some-odd-percent of the cases I get are settled without going to civil or criminal court." Thursdays hearing was the most recent chapter in a quest for justice that began in January 2010. In May of that year, the DOL reached an agreement with Spezzano to pay wages owed. But Spezzano never paid. By September, he was dragged out of his farm in handcuffs. Every court date since then Spezzano has requested a continuance, meaning a delay of court proceedings. But on Thursday the prosecutor's impatience was palpable. END QUOTE
Will Wilkin December 03, 2011 at 10:38 PM
Small Claims Court? This is a case involving a claim of unpaid wages, so it seems Dr. Palmer is correct to bring it to the Department of Labor. Although I am not a lawyer, I believe the state Commissioner of Labor has the authority to collect unpaid wages on behalf of employees pursuant to General Statutes § 31-72 (wage collection statute). I am NOT commenting on the merits of Dr. Palmer's suit or the BOE's position, because I don't know enough about the details to make a judgement. That is what the DOL is for, right? As for which court it would end up in if the employer refused to pay wages the DOL determined to be owed, well it seems criminal court is the ultimate destination of such thieves. I'll post excerpts from a news article to show it happens (not this post, only 1500 characters allowed!) Not sure if the whole BOE would go to jail or just the chief financial officer.....
Paul Singley October 10, 2012 at 03:49 PM
The board of ed. decided to settle this out of court: http://oxford-ct.patch.com/articles/board-settles-lawsuit-with-former-superintendent#comments_list

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