WORCESTER, MA An eight-person jury in U.S. District Court on Monday cleared Uxbridge police Sgt. David Bergeron of all claims filed against him by former Uxbridge Police Sgt. Tara A. McCrohan in a discrimination case. But the jury found the police union, a co-defendant, responsible on her claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress` and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
She was awarded $439,000 in damages.
Claims against another defendant in the case, Officer Josiah Morrissette, were dismissed by the judge before trial. Mr. Morrissette is currently serving as union president and testified during the trial.
“We are pleased that a Worcester county jury had the courage to hold a powerful police officers’ union accountable for its conduct and to award damages to Ms. McCrohan, who was a dedicated and loyal sergeant for many years,” her lawyer, John T. Martin, said in a statement. “We hope that as a result of the jury’s message, other similar organizations will comply with the law, and that police officers like Ms. McCrohan will not have to suffer the humiliation that Ms. McCrohan did.”
Sgt. Bergeron and Officer Morrissette did not immediately return calls for comment.
The case dates to 2009. Ms. McCrohan, who served on the Uxbridge force for 15 years until her early retirement, alleged discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and disability in her December 2011 complaint.
At that time, she was a member of the Uxbridge Police Association Local 123 of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police. The complaint said she was “known to be a lesbian” and it was known throughout the department she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“During the last year of her employment Ms. McCrohan was denied benefits of membership to which she was entitled, was publicly defamed and humiliated and treated with contempt and ridicule based on her membership in protected classes and/or in retaliation against her for engaging in protective activities,” her complaint said.
The police patrolmen’s union filed a no-confidence complaint against now retired Police Chief Scott J. Freitas on Sept. 23, 2009, that alleged he had been bullied by Ms. McCrohan and had not disciplined her for allegedly falsifying time sheets and work records and failing to follow department protocol.
Mr. Martin alleged that Sgt. Bergeron, then the union president, wrote the seven-page complaint to “embarrass, humiliate and annoy” Ms. McCrohan and gave it to the town manager and police chief. Mr. Martin said the union complaint included “false, malicious and/or reckless statements,” including accusations that she violated orders from the chief and threatened officers who followed his orders; violated departmental policies regarding motor vehicle chases; and falsified time sheets for time she did not work “thus committing larceny of money from the town.” The complaint also included “confidential information regarding her disability (PTSD) and medical treatment” and other accusations, Mr. Martin said. Its contents were later published in the Telegram & Gazette.
The complaint was written after Ms. McCrohan showed the chief, at his request, Facebook photos of Officer Greg Bach smoking a cigar at a party at another officer’s house, Mr. Martin said. A state law prohibits officers hired after it went into effect from using tobacco products. The investigation of the incident resulted in Officer Bach resigning from the department in lieu of discipline, he said. Sgt. Bergeron testified that the union was “furious” over the officer having to leave the force.
Mr. Martin portrayed Sgt. Bergeron as someone who wanted vengeance for Officer Bach having to leave the force.
During his testimony, Sgt. Bergeron, who had a different lawyer from the union, admitted signing the complaint but did not admit to authoring it. Rather, he indicated it was a group effort. He said he did not know the no-confidence complaint would be considered a public document once it was given to the town manager and subsequently shared with selectmen.
He said he and Ms. McCrohan were “best friends” and the letter of complaint was intended to “help her.”
Ms. McCrohan was seeking damages for wages lost for 14 years — when she would have retired under normal circumstances — and damages for emotional distress.