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Civil Service Overturns Demotion

April 17, 2019 GMT

DRACUT -- Housing Authority Executive Director Mary Karabatsos issued a letter of reprimand nearly three years ago to longtime employee Brian Martin over what she described as acts of insubordination. At the time, Martin was working as the agency’s maintenance supervisor.

According to Karabatsos, Martin refused to open the letter in front of her.

“This is the beginning of an all-out war,” he allegedly said. “I hope you don’t think that I am going to take this sitting down.”

Less than a year later, Martin was demoted to maintenance laborer -- a decision he appealed.

Now, the state’s Civil Service Commission has ruled 4-1 in Martin’s favor.

Commissioners on April 11 voted to accept a recommendation that his discipline be modified from a demotion to a five-day suspension that will take place next week.

The commission, in 2017, denied a motion by the Housing Authority to dismiss Martin’s appeal over the decision to demote him. Martin was hired as a maintenance laborer in 1997 and was later promoted to maintenance supervisor in 2011.

Civil Service Commissioner Cynthia A. Ittleman, in a 25-page decision, wrote that while the Housing Authority has shown that some, but not all of the charges against Martin are justified, “they fall short of justifying a demotion.”

Ittleman wrote that the Housing Authority relied on Karabatsos’ notes and other evidence to demote Martin, alleging that he had exhibited misconduct such as regularly arriving late to work, once allegedly calling the laborers “brownnosers [sic], and allegedly sitting around watching others work.

“It is clear that the Appellant (Martin) had no knowledge of these allegations at the time and had no opportunity to respond thereto,” Ittleman wrote. “Further, these assertions appear to constitute ‘piling on,’ in an attempt to unfairly bolster the Respondent’s (Housing Authority) position.”

“I am happy that the ruling was in my favor,” Martin said on Tuesday. The former Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee member referred all other questions to his attorney, Brian W. Leahey.

“I can just say that we went through the Civil Service process and Brian did get his position back with a five-day suspension,” Karabatsos said. “Our focus now is to move on and just make sure we’re doing what we need to do for our residents and the work that needs to get done for the Housing Authority.”

Karabatsos declined to comment further on the content of the decision.

“We were pleased by it because we never thought it was justified,” Leahey said recently. “There’s no basis to demotion.”

Calls were left Tuesday for attorneys Thomas E. Horgan and Keith J. Nicholson, who are listed in the decision as appearing for the Housing Authority.

The civil service commission decision detailed multiple alleged incidents involving Martin and other DHA employees that led up to Karabatsos issuing a Jan. 9, 2017 letter to Martin demoting him.

“This demotion is based on continuous acts of insubordination, failure to fulfill your position requirements, specifically supervision and leadership, and an incessant display of disgruntlement and discontent in the workplace,” Karabatsos’ letter read in part. “Over the past 14 months you’ve been reprimanded and reminded to change your behavior and your attitude toward your position, your subordinates, and your supervisors.”

Leahey on Tuesday said the allegations against his client are “a collection of falsehoods and misrepresentations.”

“And I would point out that 14 months from when that letter was written brings you to November 2015, which is when Mr. Martin raised the issue of a hostile work environment,” said Leahey, adding that there is a separate Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination case being pursued against the Housing Authority on behalf of Martin.

According to the testimony of four DHA employees, morale was poor at various times during Martin’s tenure as supervisor. On Dec. 5, 2011, a DHA maintenance laborer submitted a written complaint to Karabatsos regarding a Dec. 1, 2011 incident in which he felt Martin’s conduct was “threatening, intimidating and bullying.” After Martin informed the maintenance laborer and another employee about upcoming work in some empty apartments and they had no response, the letter stated Martin raised his voice and said, “what the (expletive)! Am I talking to my (expletive) self or what?” When the maintenance laborer asked Martin if he was serious or joking, Martin allegedly said, “your (sic) dam (sic) right I’m (expletive) serious.”

A week later Martin filed a written response, stating that the two employees did not respond to him when he mentioned the upcoming work. He denied using inappropriate language at the time.

According to Karabatsos, Martin’s weekly pay is $1,217.60.

The commission decision in favor of Martin was initially issued on March 14 but contained incorrect information about his status, so a clarified decision was issued weeks later on April 11. Both Leahey and Karabatsos said Martin was reinstated as maintenance supervisor on the day after the initial decision was issued.

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.