Former town employee's lawsuit against Falmouth dismissed

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FALMOUTH — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the town by the former code enforcement officer, who alleged he was wrongfully fired. 

In a lawsuit filed Sept. 6, 2011, longtime Code Enforcement Officer Albert Farris Jr. of Brunswick claimed he was deprived of his right to be heard by an impartial tribunal and that his constitutional rights were violated when he was fired the previous year.

The lawsuit was moved from Cumberland County Superior Court to federal court. 

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby dismissed the lawsuit Jan. 23 after concluding Farris had no federal constitutional claims. Hornby concluded Farris could have appealed his termination in state court and that a pre-termination hearing may be presided over by an employer. 

Town attorney Melissa Hewey said last year Farris was fired for “looking at sexually explicit material online and generally not doing his job.”

Farris was the code enforcement officer for nine years before he was fired in 2010. Town Manager Nathan Poore, who is a defendant in the lawsuit with Community Development Director Amanda Stearns, worked with Farris from 2006 to 2010. 

Farris claimed in his lawsuit that Poore and Stearns “regularly attempted to interfere with (Farris) in the exercise of his statutory duties,” and directed him to “make unlawful Code Enforcement decisions, rescind lawful decisions and ignore the appeal provisions of the Falmouth Zoning Ordinance to enhance their authority … .” 

James Clifford, Farris’ attorney, said last year neither Poore or Stearns had the authority to fire Farris. He said that decision should have been made by the Town Council.

Clifford did not return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit’s dismissal. 

According to court documents, Farris performed his job duties well until late 2009 or early 2010, when Stearns accused him of insubordination. Farris was informed by Poore on Feb. 8, 2010, that he was terminating Farris’ employment due to a “fiscal crisis” and suggested Farris resign to “keep things quiet,” according to court documents.

Farris refused to sign a separation agreement and Poore rescinded the termination and put Farris on a “work plan.” Farris was notified on July 7, 2010, he would be terminated and was placed on administrative leave.

A summary report prepared by Poore and Stearns following the termination alleged Farris refused to make code enforcement decisions in accordance with their directives and asserted those refusals demonstrated a lack of professionalism and judgment, insubordination and an inability to work with them, according to court documents. 

Poore presided over a termination hearing to determine if there was just cause to terminate Farris. Poore also offered testimony during the two-day hearing, according to court documents. He ultimately made the decision to fire Farris. 

Hewey said she was not surprised the lawsuit was dismissed early in the process, before the town had to file a response. 

“This (dismissal) was something we were expecting,” she said. 

Poore said he was pleased with the court’s decision to dismiss the case. 

“We were confident that the court would rule in our favor for a dismissal,” he said. “This was a personnel matter which the town took very seriously.” 

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

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