WELLFLEET — Former Principal Clerk and select board candidate Jeanne Maclauchlan is suing the town and Town Administrator Rich Waldo for employment discrimination. The lawsuit, filed in Barnstable Superior Court on Aug. 16, alleges that Waldo’s termination of Maclauchlan’s employment last year violated legal protections against age and disability discrimination.
According to court documents, Maclaughlan, 69, is seeking $100,000 in damages for “lost wages, loss of benefits, and illegal termination.” Waldo fired Maclauchlan in July 2022, her complaint says, about a month after she exhausted her 12-week Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and her accrued sick leave, after which Maclaughlan did not return to work and did not provide additional supporting evidence from her doctor.
Maclaughlan’s lawsuit asserts that she was fired because of her medical status and age, citing instances in which Waldo allegedly urged her to consider retiring.
Waldo said he could not comment on the lawsuit because notice of it had not yet been served to the town. He said he learned about the suit from a reporter for the Independent.
In May, Maclauchlan filed a separate discrimination complaint through the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination, but she withdrew it before the town could respond, according to Waldo.
When reached by telephone, Maclaughlan confirmed that the lawsuit papers hadn’t yet been served, but she said she “most definitely” plans to follow through with the suit. According to court records, Maclaughlan has until Nov. 14 to have the documents served to the defendants.
Maclaughlan declined to comment on the content of the court filings, and her lawyer, Jamie Goodwin of Duddy, Goodwin & Pollard in Worcester, did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Maclaughlan began working for the town in 1998 and was hired as principal clerk in 2001, according to the court documents. After treatment for cancer in 2006, Maclaughlan began to experience “cardiac health-related issues,” according to the lawsuit, which were exacerbated in 2020 by Covid-19.
During the pandemic, Maclauchlan’s health “began to deteriorate” because of “increased demands” placed on her as the only employee working at town hall while other town staff worked from home, the suit alleges. “She staffed the office, essentially by herself, for nearly two years while she was required to cover for her colleagues and perform many of their job responsibilities,” the documents state.
Several current town staff members who were employed during the pandemic contradicted Maclauchlan’s version of events. “We were all there,” said Assessor Nancy Vail. While some staff worked from home occasionally, “We were basically a full office,” Vail said.
On March 10, 2022, Maclaughlan’s doctor sent a letter to the town requesting a temporary leave of absence. “Cardiologists wanted her to avoid stressful situations and recommended she take time off of work,” the lawsuit states.
Then-interim Town Administrator Charlie Sumner placed Maclaughlan on paid FMLA leave for 12 weeks. But upon the expiration of her leave, Maclaughlan still had not been cleared by her doctor to return to work, say the documents. After exhausting her accrued sick leave, she was denied a request for additional hours from the town’s sick leave bank.
According to the town’s personnel manual, the sick leave bank committee, a five-person board of both union and nonunion employees, may deny a request if the applicant has abused sick leave in the past, has not exhausted other available paid leave options, or if the request is not supported by appropriate information.
Maclauchlan met in person with the newly hired Waldo on June 17. The lawsuit says that Waldo asked her “repeatedly” when she would be able to return to work and suggested retirement “based on her age.”
Waldo asked Maclauchlan for further information on whether it was safe for her to work, but Maclauchlan alleges that, although she kept the town informed about her inability to work, her doctor did not provide her with the requested written confirmation.
According to the court filings, Waldo then notified Maclauchlan that she was required to return to work or proffer a doctor’s note by July 7. Maclauchlan still had not received clearance to work from her doctor, the suit states.
The next day, on July 8, when Maclauchlan did not report for work, Waldo informed her that she had abandoned her position and that she was discharged from her job. “Waldo again expressed animus” about Maclaughlan’s age, the lawsuit asserts.
“Waldo indicated that work was piling up, her position could not remain unstaffed, and they needed to hire someone else right away,” the suit says.
The documents assert that the principal clerk position remained unfilled at the time the suit was filed on Aug. 16, despite Waldo telling Maclauchlan that “her position could not remain unstaffed.” But according to Waldo and the Independent’s previous reporting, Christine Young was hired as the town’s principal clerk in April. She remains in that job.
The lawsuit also claims that Maclauchlan was one year away from being able to retire with a pension of 80 percent of her salary. According to the Barnstable County retirement plan, as well as the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS), Maclaughlan would have needed to work for the town for at least 32 years to receive 80 percent of her salary as a pension; she had worked for the town for 24 years.
The lawsuit lists four counts against both the town and Waldo: failure to accommodate, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation in violation of Mass. General Law 151b, the state’s law protecting employees from discrimination.
The suit alleges that Maclaughlan has suffered damages including “loss of income, loss of employment benefits, loss of professional opportunities, loss of personal and professional reputation, other financial losses, emotional distress and mental suffering.”
In May, Maclauchlan ran for a three-year term on the select board. One of her campaign positions was that town staff were being paid too much. She lost to incumbent Ryan Curley by a vote of 532 to 298.