Oak Bluffs settles sexual harassment claim against fire chief

Former office administrator details relationship with chief in resignation letter to selectmen.

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Fire Chief John Rose, shown here before a Sept. 10 executive session, is retiring effective April 30. - Gabrielle Mannino

A former fire department administrator was paid $97,500 after saying she had been treated unfairly and retaliated against for rejecting the sexual advances of Fire Chief John Rose.

The town of Oak Bluffs settled the sexual harassment complaint brought by Cynthia Hatt against Rose, paying her through the town’s insurance company for dropping her claims against the town, while at the same admitting no fault by the town or the chief.

The settlement was signed by selectman chair Brian Packish and Rose on Sept. 10 behind closed doors during a secret meeting, but became official this week after the town’s insurance carrier and the courts signed off on it. Executive sessions, which bar the press and public, are allowed under state law when they involve litigation. Since that meeting, when The Times asked about the settlement, town leaders have repeatedly declined to comment.

In her resignation letter to the town, dated April 9, 2019, Hatt acknowledges having an affair with Rose in 2015 during what she called a “vulnerable stage” in her life. According to the letter, Rose broke off the relationship a year later, but when Hatt began dating another fire department employee, she details what she says became a “hostile working environment,” and she faced retaliation that involved her losing some supervisory responsibilities.

Rose remains employed by the town, but is on vacation.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour declined a Times public records request to release selectmen executive session meeting minutes for June 19 and Sept. 10, saying the minutes “must remain confidential for the present time,” adding that the board “hopes to revisit this decision and release these minutes when they are no longer required to be kept confidential.”

Packish said he has requested all 2019 executive session meeting minutes be reviewed to determine if they can be authorized for release.

All of this comes as the fire department is at the center of a mysterious FBI investigation that will include members of the department going before a grand jury on Jan. 21. The federal probe comes as the town agreed to pay a combined $37,535.07 in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements it allegedly overcharged.

The $97,500 was paid by the town’s insurance provider, Trident Insurance Services, LLC, and Argonaut Insurance Co., according to Whritenour.

Packish said the insurance company advised the town to settle.

As part of the settlement, the town and Rose do not admit they engaged in any discrimination, harrasment, or retalition against Hatt, and the town has agreed to pay the cost of mediation that resulted in the agreement. Hatt was also required to withdraw complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the Equal Employment Oppurtunity Commission (EEOC) as part of the settlement.

The Times has requested copies of the complaint Hatt filed with the MCAD.

The settlement also has a confidentiality clause preventing the town, Rose, or Hatt from discussing the terms and conditions of the agreement.

In a complaint filed in Barnstable Superior Court on July 19 and withdrawn a week later, Hatt alleged the town refused to pay her overtime pay after she rejected sexual advances from Rose.

Hatt, who currently resides in Sagamore Beach, was the office administrator for the Oak Bluffs Fire Department for the past five years. She was paid $27.44 an hour, plus benefits. Her primary duties consisted of processing payroll, managing Fire Department accounts receivable, and serving as Rose’s assistant. 

Hatt’s estranged husband, Eric Hatt, told The Times his wife had an affair with Rose while the two were still married. The Hatts are in the middle of a divorce, but Cynthia Hatt’s relationship with Rose has come up before, with town administrator Robert Whritenour telling The Times it was investigated, and defending Rose as the department’s leader.

According to that July 19 complaint, Cynthia Hatt’s overtime pay was taken away in 2017 after she rejected sexual advances from Rose. The complaint alleges Hatt regularly worked overtime hours, and is entitled to over $25,000.

“[Oak Bluffs] took Ms. Hatt’s ‘comp time’ away in 2017 after she rejected sexual advances from the [Oak Bluffs] Fire Department Chief,” the complaint reads.

“[The town] permitted, expected, encouraged, and/or instructed Ms. Hatt to work in excess of 40 hours per week without overtime compensation,” the complaint reads.

According to the settlement, the $97,500 “represents payment for alleged nonwage damages suffered as a result of any alleged wrongful acts of the town and its employees. The town also agrees to pay the cost of the mediation that resulted in this agreement.”

Hatt also agreed to not sue the town, the fire department, Rose, or other current or former town employees.

The Times reached Rose on Wednesday. At that time, he said he was on vacation and declined to comment on Hatt, a settlement, or whether he’d been subpoenaed by the grand jury.

Whritenour told The Times Friday that Rose is still employed by the town as fire chief, but declined to comment further citing the issue as a personnel matter. The issue is likely to come before selectmen when they meet Tuesday. To remove an employee or department head in town requires a majority vote of the board of selectmen.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Hatt declined to comment when she was asked about the settlement.

Packish said the settlement was a difficult point of conversation to have, but selectmen are planning on making a statement at their regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 14.

“It’s disappointing to me that the place I live and I love is being dragged through the mud in this type of conversation,” Packish said. “It’s quite shameful that anything has risen to this level and this point.”

 

A ‘proven pattern’ of misbehavior

In her resignation letter, Hatt wrote that she is one of three female employees “who have experienced inappropriate behavior by Chief John Rose: “After speaking with these women and after comparing our experiences, I began to realize that John Rose has a proven pattern of exploiting female employees.”

Richard Michelson, a former lieutenant and 17-year veteran of the EMS and fire department, told The Times that he had confronted Rose about his “numerous relationships” with women, including Hatt, in the department over the years, asking Rose to not engage with other fire department employees.

Michelson said he was witness to tactics by Rose to intimidate Hatt while she was employed by the town, including moving her desk closer to his office and taking away duties that were hers:

“The only consistent thing about [Rose’s] leadership are the inconsistencies.”

Hatt’s letter details having her parking spot moved, and being reprimanded for using the station’s restroom while her boyfriend was on duty at the station. 

“Needless to say, Chief Rose’s behavior is unacceptable, a blatant abuse of power and unbecoming of a person of authority in this or any other town,” Hatt wrote. “In retrospect, I wish that I had come forward with this information some time ago. All I can offer as an explanation is that now knowing his past history and pattern of inappropriate behavior with women in situations, I fell victim to his abuse of power.”

Hatt described the fire department and EMS as being in “crisis.” “The incredibly low morale and revolving door of employees is telling of the poor leadership of the department,” she wrote. Hatt’s letter makes reference to some of the other Rose family members who work at the department, including his sister Trulayna Rose. 

“In light of the recent #MeToo movement, I would like to believe you will take this issue very seriously,” Hatt concluded. “I have felt ashamed for falling victim to my boss’s advances, making it extremely difficult for me to speak up, but I feel strongly it is my obligation to do so now.”

15 COMMENTS

  1. Its a conundrum. While it might be disappointing that the place Packish loves Is being dragged through the mud it is still clearly evident that the leadership in Oak Bluffs has known about this and has failed to address this on multiple occasions. The reason this is getting dragged through the mud is because the board has failed to act on countless allegations and supporting interviews from staff and others. The only thing shameful here is Packish sounds as if it would be best that this never made it out in the public.#metoo #hopebluffs #wakeup

  2. Time for a clear sweep of the officials in Oak Bluffs….what an embarrassment these people are to us!!! Shame on all of you for ever letting this continue!!!

  3. Heads need to roll here. Starting with the Mr. Whritenour and Mr Rose. If they have any honor or sense of decency they should write their letters of resignation immediately. If they don’t, they need to be immediately s#@tcanned. Enough is enough!

  4. Over 4 months have gone by since the Board accepted the insurance company’s recommendation to settle. Now that it’s been disclosed to the public by the courts the Board still doesn’t have a statement on what to say? What have they been doing since Sept 10th? Heads in the sand hoping this would blow over? The stench created by Rose, Whritenour, and this Board is nauseating. Obfuscation and incompetence at best, Sinister at worst.

  5. If all of this is due to Rose’s failure to keep his belt buckle properly done up, then why isn’t the $97,500 coming out of his pay and pension? Why do the taxpayers have to dish this out?

      • Yes George,the insurance company is paying. Which means the cost of the towns policy will most likely go up,the cost of which will ultimately be passed onto the taxpayers.
        So in the long run,the taxpayers are footing the bill…

          • James ended his post with “Why do the taxpayers have to dish this out?”
            So even though the towns not cutting the check,the taxpayers will end up paying for this.

      • …and George, who pays the $$$ premium for the towns insurance policy? On every level, the Fire Chief has taken money out of the taxpayers pocket for his refusal to keep his pants buckled up.

    • Mr. Kozak, rather than putting the total blame on an unbuckled belt, what about putting an equal portion on uncrossed legs, so to speak?

  6. Shall we recite chapter and verse of “mistakes” made by government employees that wound up having taxpayers pay for them? Taxpaying property and business owners are sitting ducks, don’t tax thee, don’t tax me, tax that man behind the tree. It was ever thus since it has been discovered by politicians that robbing Peter to pay Paul is a workable government program.

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