The Coastal Star

Highland Beach: Suspended manager sues town following email flap

Former Town Manager Dale Sugarman

 

For an article on Town Attorney Tom Sliney resigning, click here.

 

By Steve Plunkett

 

Former Town Manager Dale Sugerman has sued the town, arguing his suspension and the subsequent non-renewal of his contract amount to an “unlawful ouster.”

The suit, filed Oct. 3 in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, claims Sugerman’s employment agreement was breached and names the town as a defendant as well as Commissioner Doris Trinley, former Commissioner John Sorrelli and former Mayor Jim Newill.

Those three officials “led the charge” not to extend Sugerman’s employment when they learned he planned to suspend Town Clerk Beverly Brown for four weeks without pay for emailing offensive jokes at work on her official computer, the suit says.

“Indeed, the emails rose to the level of hate mail decrying the inability in today’s society of ‘White America’ to be proud of their race,” the suit says.

Sugerman argues in the suit that his employment contract could be terminated at any time by a commission majority or by himself, “but in no event could it not be renewed.” The contract stated that after June 30, 2011, the agreement “shall automatically be renewed” on a year-to-year basis for three additional one-year terms, the suit says.

Because Sugerman’s employment could end only with a termination, “whatever the word choice of the then-Commission,” he is entitled to an agreed-upon one year’s severance pay plus accrued vacation and sick time and 12 months of health insurance, the suit contends.

It also says Newill, Sorrelli and Trinley “embarked on a deliberate mission to harm Plaintiff’s reputation.” In an evaluation, the suit says, Newill described Sugerman’s managerial skills as he “seems to rotate from department head to department head with a vendetta style of operating” and said he “creates a great deal of stress in the workplace.”

For an action plan, Newill wrote that Sugerman was “on suspension and contract ended so the point becomes mute [sic].”

Trinley, who reported to Sugerman as town clerk before she retired and won office, put in her evaluation that he “plays favorites; sends wrong message to subordinates” and “often uses his position to ‘cow’ personnel,” the suit says.    Sorrelli, the suit says, wrote in his evaluation that “employee relations are at an all-time low” and that Sugerman “creates stress throughout town. Rules employees with an iron fist.” Sorrelli added that Sugerman’s weak points could be strengthened by “looking for another job.”   The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $30,000 apiece from the town, Sorrelli, Newill and Trinley, plus attorney’s fees and costs.

As a prelude to the suit, Sugerman’s lawyer Elana Gloetzner wrote Highland Beach demanding the town pay $166,114 in severance pay, $31,567 for accrued time, health and medical benefits for a year and $12,100 for attorney’s fees.

 “Moreover,” she wrote, “Dr. Sugerman requires a written public apology, approved by the Town Commission at a duly called meeting of the same, and clarification that he is not at fault for any wrongdoing in connection with his employment by the Town.”   Sugerman was banished from Highland Beach for five months with pay on Feb. 1. 

In April, an independent hearing officer agreed with Town Attorney Tom Sliney that Brown should be punished with a written reprimand instead of Sugerman’s proposed unpaid suspension. Sliney recommended the town not pay Brown’s $6,000 legal bill, equal almost to one month’s salary, because she did not dispute sending the emails.Ú

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