In the latest chapter in a saga that has divided residents, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined the 2014 firing of a Berkshire County police chief was retaliatory and based on her gender.
In an EEOC document obtained by WAMC, the Commission finds there is reason to believe Hinsdale’s firing of Nancy Daniels was done in reaction to complaints the police chief made about Select Chair Bonnie Conner. The three-member select board fired Daniels in January 2014, saying she hadn’t completed necessary training. Conner says the town did nothing wrong and the decision was not retaliatory.
“It was a two out of three decision when the select board did anything,” Conner said. “From my understanding, the advice we had gotten, the laws and the requirements from the state of Massachusetts, we did what we did to follow the law.”
EEOC says the town also based its termination of Daniels on her failure to turn over active case information after the board placed her on leave in November 2013. Daniels denies that. The Commission says the town’s justifications for the firing do not hold up to scrutiny and are pretext for discrimination. EEOC says the firing was in retaliation for Daniels complaining about Conner’s treatment of her, claiming the chair made false accusations about Daniels. Daniels, a member of the Hinsdale police department since 2001 who was hired as fulltime chief in January 2013, says she never had any problems with the select board before Conner was elected in May 2013.
“Even if I was right, I was wrong,” Daniels said. “And just the false accusations that still continue.”
The Commission finds Daniels attempted to complete the necessary police training, but couldn’t for reasons out her control. Daniels cites a hysterectomy and subsequent ankle injury as the reasons she didn’t complete the training. The select board did send a letter to the Municipal Police Training Committee requesting a waiver extension for Daniels to continue serving as chief, but it differed from what was agreed upon at an earlier meeting with Daniels, according to the Commission. Conner has said she left out those health issues because she didn’t feel comfortable discussing them.
Daniels appealed the MPTC’s request denial, another reason the town used for firing her, according to EEOC.
Conner says the EEOC determination contains inaccuracies such as that Daniels was the town’s first full-time police chief. The determination also uses the board’s “favorable” treatment of a highway superintendent who had been the subject of controversies including theft as reasoning to determine the firing of Daniels does not hold up to scrutiny. Conner says EEOC investigators only spoke with her once for a short time.
“They asked a lot of questions which you think about it and you try to figure what’s that got to do with anything?” Conner said. “You just can’t seem to make sense out of it. There were a lot of questions that they could have asked. They didn’t. The investigator seemed to already have basically already have reached his decision and basically told us that. That he thought that he could make a finding on this case and he hadn’t even gone through all of the interviews.”
The EEOC enforcement supervisor handling the charge would not answer questions about the determination, which is final. The Hinsdale Select Board was set to hold an executive session at 6 o’clock Wednesday to decide how to handle the matter. Selectman Bill Goddard, who voted with Conner to fire Daniels, is no longer on the board. Daniels says she plans to move away from Hinsdale once things are put to bed.
“If they don’t want to settle with me then we’ll litigate,” Daniels said. “We’ll go to court. The only thing is its going to cost the town more money. It just seems that it’s not a problem for her to continue to spend the money of the townspeople.”
Select Chair Conner is up for a recall election June 27th. Town voters approved the ability to recall elected officials last year in the wake of the Daniels scandal. Former select board member John Genzabella is on the ballot to replace Conner. Daniels says she will get closure if Conner is recalled, while the select chair acknowledges the EEOC determination isn’t the greatest of campaign advertisements.
“All we or I can do is be hopeful and continue to do basically what I’ve done,” Conner said. “Try to keep moving forward. Try to catch up on a lot of matters in the town that have been neglected for years and years and years.”