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Hartford responds to former worker’s lawsuit, says firing was justified

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2020 9:49:10 PM
Modified: 9/25/2020 9:48:59 PM

BURLINGTON — A lawyer for the town of Hartford says officials did nothing wrong when they fired Robert Vahey, a former solid waste supervisor who later sued the town.

“Any damages plaintiff alleges to have sustained resulted from plaintiff’s own conduct,” and are not the town’s fault, Brian Monaghan, an attorney for the town wrote in a response filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Sept. 8.

The response follows a lawsuit Vahey filed earlier this summer, claiming town officials unjustly fired him in August 2019. Vahey had worked at the Hartford Transfer Station as the solid waste supervisor since 2004.

The conflict stemmed from a dispute Vahey had with his new boss, Public Works Director Hannah Tyler, who was hired in 2018.

In the lawsuit, Vahey wrote that he was concerned Tyler lacked appropriate experience for her job and he brought those concerns to a Selectboard member and Town Manager Brannon Godfrey. Tyler then held a meeting and told employees not to talk to town officials without approval, which Vahey said was a violation of his right to free speech, according to his lawsuit.

He later claimed that while he was on medical leave in August 2019, Tyler issued him a pre-termination notice, followed by an official termination notice the next month. In the first notice she cited several reasons for firing Vahey, including that he set up a shooting range on town property and frequently called in sick. Vahey denied all of the allegations and claimed firing him while he was on medical leave was unjust, according to the lawsuit.

Vahey also took issue with a post-termination hearing, which Godfrey presided over in February 2020. Vahey claimed in the lawsuit that Godfrey had a conflict of interest and, by not recusing himself from the hearing, Godfrey and the town violated Vahey’s right to due process.

But in the response, Monaghan denied most of Vahey’s claims, writing that the firing was completely unrelated to his medical leave.

“Plaintiff would have lost his job regardless of whether he requested or took leave,” Monaghan wrote in the response.

He also denied that Godfrey should have recused himself from the termination hearing and said the town had not violated “any clearly established constitutional or statutory right” regarding Vahey’s firing.

Vahey requested damages but did not specify an amount in his lawsuit. A court date for the first hearing in the case has not been set.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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