RUMFORD — The town of Rumford and its former town manager, Linda-Jean Briggs, have reached a settlement to resolve her claim that she was wrongfully terminated from her job.

Linda-Jean Briggs has settled her wrongful termination claim against the town of Rumford for a sum of $250,000. She was hired in 2017, signed a three-year contract in 2018 and fired in January 2019.

The town has agreed to pay her $250,000, according to Briggs’ attorney.

In January 2019, the Select Board voted to terminate Briggs’ employment without cause under a provision of her three-year contract, which they believed allowed them to do so provided they pay her six months of severance.

Briggs rejected the severance and filed suit in federal district court last year, alleging the town’s no-cause termination violated her statutory and constitutional rights to continued employment.

Briggs filed a federal lawsuit against the town and its five selectmen in February 2019, a month after she was suspended with pay, claiming her civil rights were violated when she was suspended and ultimately terminated without cause.

The town filed a motion to dismiss Briggs’ lawsuit, arguing selectmen followed the terms of a lawful employment contract.

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby denied the motion in September, finding “the town was precluded from contracting around a Maine state statute and local ordinance that require cause for termination of a town manager.”

In November, the town responded to the lawsuit, denying the wrongful termination and claiming Briggs’ own “conduct was the sole or a contributing cause” to that action.

Both sides had requested a jury trial prior to the decision to settle.

If the matter had not been settled, according to a written statement from Briggs’ attorney, Maria Fox, the town planned to appeal the U.S. District Court decision on its motion to dismiss the case to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The town was represented by Portland attorney John Wall.

In her lawsuit, Briggs was seeking back pay for lost wages and benefits, forward pay for the unserved part of her contract, plus damages and reimbursement of her attorney’s fees.

When she was terminated, according to court records, the town cut her a severance check for $40,999. She never cashed the check.

Briggs was hired as town manager in 2017 and, after a year, signed a three-year contract with an annual salary of $82,000, with a 2% increase built into her first and second year anniversaries, with a potential for another 1% increase in the second year if she received a good evaluation from selectmen.

Under the terms of the contract, if terminated without cause, she is entitled to six months severance, or $41,000.

Selectmen Christopher Brennick, Michael Peter Chase, Mark N. Belanger, James Windover and James Theriault each signed the contract, and all five are named in Briggs’ lawsuit as defendants.

In response to a Freedom of Access Act request sent by the Sun Journal to Rumford in August seeking access to any disciplinary action taken against Briggs during her employment, acting Town Manager Scott Cole replied there were no disciplinary actions taken, and instead provided agendas and minutes of meetings held in late 2018 and early 2019 detailing public discussion and executive sessions about Briggs’ employment.

Briggs was suspended with pay on Dec. 14, 2018, by a vote of the board, and was terminated Jan. 2, 2019, by board vote based on the “no cause” termination clause in her contract.

At the start of the Dec. 14, 2018, emergency executive session, Briggs said she was given less than 24 hours notice and because she was the only person invited to the session to discuss a “personnel matter,” she knew the meeting was about her and asked the board to consider postponing until she could hire a lawyer. The board agreed to postpone a formal hearing, but voted to go into executive session to discuss her employment.

When selectmen emerged from that hourlong session, they voted to suspend Briggs with pay pending her hiring a lawyer to attend a hearing, according to meeting minutes.

Michael Peter Chase, vice chairman of the board, opposed the action, saying the town manager had not committed any crime or anything that warranted suspension, and that conflicts with the board were over communication issues “which can be worked on and rectified.” Chase said he didn’t feel the board was willing to work with Briggs to improve communications, and opposed her reprimand.

The board met three days later to appoint an interim town manager, selecting former Police Chief Stacy Carter for the post. Carter accepted it as a short-term appointment.

The board met Dec. 20 for what became a contentious meeting over Briggs’ employment, with multiple residents coming forward to support her.

Two weeks later, on Jan. 2, 2019, at the end of a 3½-hour executive session, the board voted 4-1 to terminate Briggs “without cause in accordance with her contract.”

Chase was opposed.

Briggs claimed Rumford violated Maine law and the town’s charter, which both require that cause must be found for terminating a town manager, and that the town was required to file a preliminary resolution with the town clerk stating the specific reasons for termination before taking action. Town managers are required to receive notice of resolutions within 10 days, and have a right to request a public hearing. During this process, a manager’s salary may not be affected until the appeal is finalized, under state law.

Rumford’s response to these claims was that the language in Briggs’ lawsuit was not framed as allegations, but simple assertions of law, to which the town is not required to respond, and that defendants did not have enough information or knowledge to “form a belief as to the truth” of her allegations. The town denied violating Briggs’ employment rights, and asserts that the town and its board have “at all times acted in good faith and without knowledge that their conduct violated any clearly established constitutional or statutory rights of the plaintiff.”

Briggs also claimed the town violated due process afforded her under state and federal constitutions, which the town denied.

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