Peterborough’s former recreation director is suing the town, claiming he was wrongfully terminated.
Jeffrey King worked as Peterborough’s recreation director from 2003 until August, when he was fired for what the town, in a news release, called “failures to follow Town policies, protocols and training.”
“This action was taken after complaints made against Mr. King led to a Town investigation” that resulted in those findings, the Aug. 20 news release said. “This failure has undermined, in the Town’s opinion, his ability to manage employees, and as a result he is not in a position to lead the Peterborough Recreation Department.”
Town officials offered the public no other details about King’s alleged actions. They have also denied a public-records request from The Sentinel on the grounds that the findings of the investigation into King — and the complaint or complaints that prompted it — are “personnel records” that are exempt from disclosure under the state’s right-to-know law.
In his lawsuit, filed Monday in the Northern District of Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua, King alleges town officials relied on “insufficient, distorted and misinterpreted information” in reaching their decision to fire him and did not afford him a fair chance to respond.
The town has not yet formally responded to the lawsuit, and Peterborough Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett declined to comment Wednesday.
King’s lawsuit portrays him as an exemplary, award-winning employee who had never been disciplined or reprimanded until this year.
In July, according to the lawsuit, King was told that one or more members of his department had made “a complaint or complaints alleging harassment.” He was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
The lawsuit does not further describe the allegations.
According to the lawsuit, town officials interviewed King twice in July before recommending his termination to the Peterborough Select Board. King says in the filing that town officials refused to tell him what was in the complaint or provide him with a copy of it.
He then appeared before the select board in a nonpublic session Aug. 6, where he was given 20 minutes to argue for his continued employment but was not allowed to cross examine or present witnesses, the lawsuit says.
King contends the town’s investigation was insufficient and failed to validate “hearsay and second and third hand statements.” As one example, King claims Deputy Town Administrator Nicole MacStay raised concerns about a photo of what looked like teenage girls in bathing suits by the town pool, which she said had been found on his computer.
But, the lawsuit says, the picture “was literally one of thousands that King had taken as part of his duties to post pictures detailing the recreational activities of the Town,” and had been posted to the recreation department’s Facebook page “along with thousands of similar photographs over the years.” The girls’ parents had signed releases allowing the town to take and post such photos, according to the lawsuit.
It is not clear from the lawsuit whether or how the photo ultimately affected the town’s decision to fire King.
MacStay was out of the office Wednesday and did not respond to an email seeking comment.
King also claims town employees and volunteers were forbidden from speaking to him, depriving him “of his opportunity to gather and present evidence on his behalf.”
And he says that the allegations against him, even if proved and interpreted “in the light most favorable to the Town,” would not justify firing an employee with “his otherwise spotless record.”
The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate King for lost wages, harm to his reputation and other impacts he says he has suffered. He is also seeking legal costs.
King did not respond to a voicemail Wednesday, and his attorney, J. Joseph McKittrick, declined to comment.
Select Board Chairman Tyler Ward said the King’s position hasn’t been filled and the town will conduct a search for his replacement.
Sentinel staff writer Sierra Hubbard contributed to this report.