PORTLAND — The trial of a former New Gloucester deputy treasurer and bookkeeper seeking damages related to those positions wrapped up Thursday after two days of testimony.
The bench trial presided over by Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills stemmed from a civil complaint filed by Sandra Sacco, who resigned from her job in 2013 about three weeks after selectmen met behind closed doors, then in the following public session, cut her hours and axed her benefits. When the town later reversed its decision and restored the job as a full-time position, Sacco was told that her application to return to her old job was filed too late. She had held the dual roles for a decade.
Sacco’s lawsuit appeals the board’s administrative action.
The town sought to have the case thrown out about a year ago, but Mills ruled against the town, paving the way for this week’s bench trial.
Sacco took the witness stand the first day of testimony, describing the period of transition as “very emotional” and confusing.
“I was very mixed up,” she said.
She and her husband, the town’s former fire chief, had since moved to Florida, but Sacco said “it would not be an effort or a big deal for me to move back” if she were offered her old job.
Opposing attorneys are expected to file their closing arguments by February, but it could be as late as April before Justice Mills rules in the case.
Sacco had filed suit through her attorney, James Clifford of Kennebunk, appealing the loss of her job and claiming violations of her civil and due process rights, along with damages for back pay, reinstatement of benefits and attorney’s fees.
Mark Franco of Portland represented the town at trial.
Mills ruled last year that Sacco could move forward with efforts to fight her job loss. But Mills dismissed several claims in Sacco’s suit, including fraud and negligent misrepresentation.
Sacco’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress also was allowed to continue.
Town selectmen had voted 3-2 in a late-night public session, following executive session, on Nov. 4, 2013, to reduce Sacco’s full-time job to 24 hours per week and to rescind her benefits. Sacco wasn’t told about the meeting until the next day.
At that meeting, selectmen decided to create an interim finance director position that would take over some of the duties Sacco had performed. Selectmen had planned to appoint Town Manager Sumner Field, who was due to retire Jan. 2, 2014, to the newly created position, according to Mills.
“On hearing the news, plaintiff became upset and distressed about her finances, health care coverage and retirement expectations,” Mills wrote, citing Sacco’s amended complaint.
Sacco became “increasingly anxious” and sought medical advice. She took medical leave from Nov. 11 to Nov. 24. When she returned to work, Field presented her with a memo stating she was “on probation” for poor performance. Sacco believed she had been suspended without pay and left work. Later that day, she sent Field an email to say she had resigned.
On Dec. 2, selectmen unanimously decided to reverse their Nov. 4 decision regarding the bookkeeper job. But Sacco wasn’t told about the reversal and the restoration of her full-time position. The town advertised the job opening on its website.
On Dec. 26, 2013, selectmen met to discuss the town’s budget, including a possible severance package for Sacco. She attended that meeting and asked that she be reinstated to her former position. She was told that only the town manager could do that. She wrote to Field on that day and emailed him on Jan. 2, repeating her desire and seeking a written response.
On Jan. 6, the town manager responded in writing, telling her that her application was received after the deadline and wouldn’t be considered. A week later, Clifford sent the town manager a letter on behalf of Sacco, seeking clarification about his decision not to rehire her.
A week after that, the town’s attorney told Clifford that “there was no further right of municipal review of the town manager’s decision not to consider (Sacco) for reinstatement or rehire and extend to (Sacco) an offer of settlement,” according to Sacco’s amended complaint.