Court allows employment lawsuit against airport to proceed

Photo by Steve Myrick

Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin, in an order dated Thursday, October 9, denied a request by a lawyer representing the Martha’s Vineyard Airport commission that he dismiss two separate lawsuits filed by fired airport employee Beth Tessmer against the airport commission, Dukes County Commission, individual board members, and executives of the two commissions.

In an October 8 hearing in Dukes County Superior Court, airport commission attorney Susan Whalen argued that Ms. Tessmer’s two lawsuits and a separate complaint before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) all essentially covered the same allegations, and should not be allowed to proceed at the same time under court rules. She also argued that Ms. Tessmer’s attorney, former Tisbury police chief Ted Saulnier, violated court rules in filing the second lawsuit in Superior Court.

The first lawsuitasks the court to return Ms. Tessmer to her job as a management executive at the airport. The court said the legal action can move forward, and Superior Court is the proper legal venue.

“Dismissal is not appropriate and the court must make a declaration of the rights of the parties,” Judge Chin wrote in his order.

The second lawsuit, a 45-page complaint, which alleges slander and defamation, discrimination, retaliation under the Massachusetts “whistle-blower” law, wrongful discharge, denial of due process, civil rights violations, and civil conspiracy, was also allowed by Judge Chin, but not without comment.

“It does not contain averments that are ‘simple, concise and direct,’” Judge Chin wrote in his order. “It is verbose and confusing and is subject to dismissal.”

Judge Chin ordered Mr. Saulnier to file an amended complaint or see it dismissed. To file the amended complaint, Ms. Tessmer must withdraw her sexual harassment and discrimination complaint, currently before the MCAD.

Ruling reaction

Mr. Saulnier said he is entitled to withdraw the complaint before the MCAD, because that administrative agency has not issued any ruling within 90 days from the time the complaint was filed.

“Before you can sue in Superior Court for a discrimination case, you have to take it to the administrative agency and exhaust administrative remedies,” Mr. Saulnier said in a phone interview Wednesday. “He has ruled I have exhausted my administrative remedies. It’s going to be withdrawn, but I’m going to consolidate it into the Superior Court complaint. It’s a move from one place to another.”

Ms. Whalen said her motions to dismiss are the first step in a long legal process. She was encouraged by the court’s orders.

“We are pleased that the court has addressed our concerns with the conduct of the litigation being in two forums and has ordered the MCAD proceedings to be terminated so that the matter now will be addressed only in one forum,” Ms. Whalen said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We are also pleased that the court has ordered the plaintiff to file an amended complaint that comports to the rules of civil procedure.  We look forward to litigating these matters and addressing the substantive issues in court.”

Lawyer vs. lawyer

In court last Wednesday, Ms. Whalen argued that the entire matter should be dismissed. She used sharp terms to describe Mr. Saulnier’s complaint, which includes 113 allegations of fact, and 180 separate charges of illegal actions against 11 separate defendants. At various times during the proceeding she described it as an “incoherent rant,” “flawed and unsupported,” and “wishful thinking.”

“It presents an incoherent litany of allegations without presenting a shred of evidence,” Ms. Whalen told the court. “It’s anything but a well-pleaded complaint.”

In court, Judge Chin questioned Mr. Saulnier about whether the complaint complied with court rules, and whether it needed to be refiled in a shorter form.

Mr. Saulnier defended his complaint. “It’s about as short a complaint as possible given the complexity of the case,” he said. “It’s voluminous because there is more to this than meets the eye. There is something going on at the airport which no one seems to be able to control. That’s why it’s so voluminous.”