Discrimination allegation against Scituate heading to U.S. District Court

Discrimination allegation against Scituate heading to U.S. District Court

Snow-plow driver says he was dismissed after complaint to Breeze & Observer

SCITUATE - A former snow-plow driver is suing the town in federal court for at least $80,000 in back wages and benefits because, he claims, he was the victim of age discrimination and retaliation when he was not hired for a full-time position and complained to the local newspaper about it.

John N. Sousa Jr. maintains the town terminated his part-time services after he went to The Valley Breeze & Observer to publicize the fact that he had filed a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights about the town's alleged discriminatory practices when he, at the age of 59, was passed up for a job that went to someone in his 30s.

"Within hours" of the publication of The Valley Breeze & Observer story Oct. 13, 2011, about his age discrimination claim, Sousa was informed he would no longer be called to work in Scituate, according to court documents.

Both sides have demanded a jury trial. No date has been set but those close to the case say a trial can be expected in early 2014 in U.S. District Court, Providence.

The town denies the allegations.

"The town's position is that the town did not discriminate and did not retaliate against Mr. Sousa in any way, shape or fashion," said David M. D'Agostino, town solicitor with Gorham & Gorham Inc. of North Scituate.

According to court documents, here are the relevant facts of the case:

Sousa was working as a part-time snow-plow operator and had made it known "on more than one occasion" to his supervisor, Dale Langlais who was then public works director, that he wanted a full-time position. Sousa maintains that Langlais assured him he would be given a full-time job as soon as one of the drivers retired or left.

In the spring of 2011, a job became available and went to a "less experienced" driver in his 30s, prompting Sousa to file complaints with the state human rights commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Both agencies in 2013 issued notices giving Sousa the right to sue.

In spring of 2012, apparently another full-time snow-plow-driver job opened up and Sousa applied for it, but it also was filled by a "younger person less qualified" than he. By this time, Sousa was 60 years old. He was not called in for snow removal work throughout the winter of 2012-13, essentially "terminating him without cause."

The town's answer to the complaint, filed June 13 by attorney Marc DeSisto on behalf of the town's insurer, Rhode Island Interlocal Trust, says Sousa had "no expectation of promotion."

"There is nothing that reasonably could have resulted in an expectation of employment for (Sousa), regardless of his age or other status," DeSisto said.

Langlais will "deny and refute" Sousa's assertion that he was promised a full-time job, DeSisto said, noting that the public works director lacked the authority to make such a promise. "The town, using its judgment, simply hired the best suited person for this position," DeSisto maintained.

In an interview with The Valley Breeze & Observer, D'Agostino said, "When you compare his (Sousa's) story to the independently verified facts, there is a discrepancy." Particularly in regard to the claim of retaliation, "the facts don't line up," D'Agostino said. The trial, he suggested, will come down to "a creditability issue."

D'Agostino revealed that Sousa had worked for the town as a full-time employee about 10 years ago, but quit without providing two weeks' notice. He later returned to work for the town, driving snow-plows on an as-needed basis.

Joseph R. Daigle, whose law office is in Warwick and who represents Sousa, was asked about monetary damages. He had this to say via email: "If Mr. Sousa wins at trial, the jury is going to consider the wages and benefits he would have earned since the time of his termination and use that number to calculate the amount of his damages. Right now that's close to $80,000 and it will be substantially higher before this case gets to trial."

Also, "We think the jury will find that the town intentionally retaliated against Mr. Sousa because he opposed the town's discriminatory practices. If that happens, we'll ask the court to award punitive damages," Daigle continued. "The law is clear - you can't get rid of employees just because they have complained about discrimination."