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Age, gender discrimination suit against Billings Farm heading to trial this year

  • David Young, assistant manager of PR at Nintendo of America, left, and dairy farmer Alayna Perkins interact with a cow at Billings Farm on Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in Woodstock, Vt. Dairy farmers took on Nintendo representatives in "Milk," a video game inspired by milking cows. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, April 18, 2019

WOODSTOCK — A 25-year-old Hartland woman is suing Billings Farm & Museum and the foundation that owns and operates it, alleging the nonprofit Woodstock Foundation wrongfully terminated her employment in September 2017.

Alayna Perkins, who became the farm manager in October 2016, claims she was discriminated against because of her gender and age.

The case is slated to head to trial later this year in the civil division of Windsor Superior Court in Woodstock; she seeks an unspecified monetary award.

Perkins alleges her superiors didn’t support her in her role, leading to a lack of cooperation from her employees and insubordination that ended in a downward spiral with her firing, her attorney, Norman Watts, wrote in a six-page civil lawsuit filed in January 2018.

Her supervisor, Billings Farm Executive Director David Simmons, fired her because of “alleged employee morale issues — issues that he fostered by his failure to support (her) in management and discipline matters,” the lawsuit asserted.

Billings Farm, through its attorneys, has denied the allegations.

“Defendant’s actions towards Plaintiff were taken due to a bona fide factor other than sex, including seniority, merit, quality,” said the Billings Farm’s March 2018 legal response. “Plaintiff’s claims are barred because the employment decision about which she complains was made on the basis of reasonable factors other than Plaintiff’s age.”

Perkins, who turns 26 next month, started working at Billings Farm as an intern in 2013 and moved up through the ranks to become farm manager in 2016. The farm includes livestock barns that house a dairy herd, draft horses, sheep and oxen. As an animal husbandry specialist, Perkins was responsible for planning the care and feeding of the animals in addition to supervising up to five farm employees.

In the suit, Perkins alleges that Simmons treated her with “disdain” because of her gender and age. She also said Simmons had no experience with animals and ignored her advice and purchased two horses in poor health. He later passed on a donation of two horses in good health that she had been negotiating, Perkins said.

Perkins said superiors failed to support her when she tried to terminate farm workers who consumed marijuana and alcohol both on the job and before shifts, and the employees’ behavior continued as a result.

In addition to undermining her authority and disrespecting her, some male employees who worked under Perkins made derogatory comments about her and about women’s breasts, and they falsely accused her of having romantic relations with farm employees “to gain advantage,” the lawsuit alleges.

When she spoke up about her treatment, she was ignored, she wrote. Perkins ultimately was replaced by an older male employee, who she believes is being paid more than she was in the same position. She made about $45,000 annually, Watts said.

However, the Woodstock Foundation, which owns and operates Billings Farm & Museum, denies that allegation and other claims of wrongdoing, according to its eight-page response.

The nonprofit denied that most of Perkins’ employees became uncooperative and insubordinate, making management of the farm hard for her, but said “it is true that both male and female employees had difficulty working with and for (Perkins), and some resigned due to (her).”

It also denied that the foundation had knowledge about employees consuming drugs or alcohol and said that her “failure to contemporaneously report or discipline her employees would violate her job duties and foster the environment of which (she) herself now complains,” according to the response written by the foundation’s attorneys, John Paul Faignant and Marie Peck Fabian.

Perkins has sued on two counts: illegal gender discrimination in employment and illegal age discrimination in employment.

The case was slated to head to trial this month, but the parties agreed to continue it to a later date, court documents indicate. There is a trial readiness conference scheduled for September.

Perkins now is working at Oak Knoll Dairy in Windsor, Watts said.

“(Alayna) was fired because the male employees mistreated her, and management failed to support her and instead replaced her with a male farm manager,” Watts said on Wednesday.

Fabian, the Billings Farm attorney, had a different assessment of the matter.

“We do have a high degree of confidence that a Windsor County jury will exonerate Billings Farm from the allegations of the suit,” Fabian said.

A message left for Simmons wasn’t returned.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.