BOSTON — Rockland Town Administrator Allan Chiocca made waves last fall when he demanded a $5.3 million payout not to sue the town over its handling of a sex scandal he says destroyed his career and damaged his reputation.
Attorneys representing more than a half-dozen defendants are set to meet in federal court next month to discuss the lawsuit Chiocca threatened more than six months ago, and filed this spring.
Chiocca was placed on paid administrative leave last May after then-selectman Deirdre Hall leveled sexual harassment claims against him. An external investigation said Chiocca was not at fault, but the town has not reinstated his employment or fired him. In the year since the incident, Chiocca's attorney Adam Shafran says his reputation has been ruined, his future job prospects dashed and that the town has unlawfully retaliated against him.
Shafran filed a lawsuit on Chiocca's behalf in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts this March that lists dozens of charges against the town, former selectmen Hall and Ed Kimball, and current board members Larry Ryan, Mike Mullen, Mike O'Loughlin, Rich Penney and Kara Nyman.
The counts against the defendants include sexual harassment, wrongful termination, unlawful suspension, conspiracy to violate civil rights, libel, slander and malicious prosecution. The suit does not specify a dollar amount, but asks Chiocca be awarded damages including back pay and benefits, lost vacation time and retirement benefits, and money for emotional distress, pain and suffering, reputation damages and punitive damages.
Last November, Shafran sent a letter to the town saying his client was willing to abandon potential lawsuits in exchange for a $5.36 million settlement.
“As Mr. Chiocca’s employer, we view the town as the primary party responsible for the damages Mr. Chiocca has sustained,” the letter said.
On Friday, Shafran said he thinks any damages awarded to his client now could surpass that number.
"If this case goes all the way to trial, we think the damages will be higher," he said.
The town has not yet filed an official response to the lawsuit. A hearing on the case is scheduled for July 8.
"While we cannot comment on the specifics of this pending litigation, we are vigorously defending the Town of Rockland's interests and look forward to the full facts coming to light," Jason Crotty, the town's attorney, said in an email Friday.
The scandal began early last summer when Hall accused Chiocca of behaving inappropriately toward her during an after-hours encounter at town hall. The town hired an outside investigation firm to look into the claims, at the heart of which was a three-hour surveillance video of the pair recorded after midnight in town hall.
The investigation culminated in a 29-page report that said Hall pressured Chiocca into engaging in sexual activities with her, reminding him that she was his boss and would be voting on his contract extension.
The report also found that Hall had been having an extramarital affair with then-Selectman Edward Kimball, who said in an affidavit that he had “engaged in some investigatory work” himself to get to the bottom of Hall’s initial claims against Chiocca.
Hall and Kimball have both resigned their positions and Rockland voters elected Penney and Nyman as their replacements.
Before a special election to fill the vacant seats on the board, the remaining three members moved to fire Chiocca, claiming that while he was not at fault in the sex scandal, the investigation had identified “other serious misconduct.”
Instead, the board found that it was unable to act thanks to a Rockland charter mandate that says no action can be taken against a town administrator without the vote of at least four board members. Once five members were back on the board, the selectmen decided not to reinstate or fire Chiocca, but instead keep him on paid leave through the end of his contract, which expires this month.
In January, selectmen said in response to a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination filing by Chiocca that they were reopening the investigation.
In the town’s 76-page response to the commission's complaint, selectmen say they question the portrait of victimization painted by Chiocca and even go as far as to say he may have been the aggressor in an after-hours sexual encounter with Hall last May.
Reach Mary Whitfill at email@example.com.