MCAD finds for Tisbury female officer on discrimination charge

The Tisbury Police Department and ambulance service operate from a building off the Water Street parking lot next to Stop and Shop Supermarket. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) has found probable cause that the Tisbury Police Department and Sgt. Timothy Stobie discriminated against police officer Kelly Kershaw “based on sexual harassment.”

Ms. Kershaw’s two-year-old complaint alleged sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by the town of Tisbury and the Tisbury Police Department. She named the town of Tisbury and town administrator John Bugbee, the Tisbury Police Department, Sergeant Stobie, and former Tisbury Police Chief John Cashin as respondents.

MCAD did not support all of Ms. Kershaw’s allegations. The MCAD decision, dated September 7 and including a report by MCAD investigator Abigail Soto-Colon, also found a “lack of probable cause … on the allegations of retaliation and aiding and abetting” against the town, the police department, the town administrator, the former police chief, and Sergeant Stobie.

Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan would not comment yesterday on the decision, which he said he learned of when a reporter asked for his reaction. He was not the police chief during the period in which the events that were cited in Ms. Kershaw’s complaint took place.

Ms. Kershaw also had no comment. Mr. Bugbee could not be reached for comment, nor could Sergeant Stobie, who was in court yesterday.

In the two-page complaint Ms. Kershaw filed with MCAD, dated April 7, 2009, she accused Sergeant Stobie of sexual harassment. In addition, she claimed she was subjected to a pattern of harassment and duty assignments not applied to male officers.

Ms. Kershaw also alleged that former Chief Cashin and Mr. Bugbee ignored her requests to address her complaints and tried to get her to quit her job. Mr. Cashin left the chief’s job on May 20, three months short of the end of his three-year contract.

Ms. Kershaw filed an amended complaint with MCAD on July 13, 2009, adding allegations that Mr. Cashin and Mr. Bugbee had committed additional acts of harassment and retaliation after she filed her complaint in April.

In a letter accompanying the MCAD decision, director Julian T. Tynes explains that the allegations of retaliation and aiding and abetting against the Tisbury Police Department, the town of Tisbury, Mr. Stobie, Mr. Cashin, and Mr. Bugbee were dismissed, as were the sexual harassment allegations against the town and Mr. Cashin.

The decision addresses the finding of probable cause for discrimination based on sexual harassment under the heading “Individual Liability.”

“If taking Complainant’s allegations as true, she was subjected to harassment that was sexual in nature by Respondent Stobie,” the report states. “Complainant’s allegations are sufficiently severe to have unreasonably interfered with a reasonable person’s work performance or altered the terms and conditions of employment.

“Therefore, probable cause is recommended against Respondent Stobie as to the allegations contained in the complaint.”

Since the MCAD decision recommends a finding of probable cause against Sergeant Stobie and the Tisbury Police Department, the next step is a mandatory conciliation conference between all parties to see if a settlement can be reached, according to an MCAD spokesman. Ms. Kershaw and Sergeant Stobie and their counsels are required to attend a conciliation conference at the MCAD office on December 29.

Should conciliation fail, the case would be certified for public hearing. A public hearing is a formal proceeding at which witnesses testify under oath before one of three MAD commissioners, according to the agency’s website. The commissioner serves as the judge and reviews testimony and documents submitted at the hearing. If a finding of probable cause is upheld through the appeal process, remedies ordered by MCAD may include monetary damages.

Ms. Kershaw joined Tisbury’s police department as a traffic officer in the summer of 2002. She paid her own way to the police academy. After graduating from the academy in March 2004, Officer Kershaw worked part-time in Tisbury until August, when she became the department’s first full-time female officer to have been appointed in several years.

Sergeant Stobie has served as a full-time Tisbury police officer since 1989. In June 2006, he was appointed acting chief of police by the selectmen after former Chief Ted Saulnier retired, following several months of failed contract negotiations. Mr. Stobie served as acting chief until September 2006, when Chief Cashin began his tenure. Mr. Stobie was promoted to a newly created third sergeant’s position in the police department in 2008, on Chief Cashin’s recommendation, with the Tisbury selectmen’s approval.