Huntington ordered to pay legal fees in employee dispute

A campaign bumper sticker for Huntington Councilwoman Susan

A campaign bumper sticker for Huntington Councilwoman Susan Scarpati-Reilly is visible in the window of a house boat belonging to Huntington Town Harbormaster Bill Perks in Centerport. (Mar. 30, 2000) (Credit: Newsday Photo by John Paraskevas)

The Town of Huntington has been ordered to pay legal fees for a former employee who accused a former town board member of assault.

The state appeals court decision, handed down May 7, said the town "breached a collective bargaining agreement by failing to pay certain legal fees on behalf of" former town harbormaster William Perks.

The legal fees were generated after the town began investigating the alleged assault. When the town refused to pay Perks' legal fees, he sought arbitration under his union contract and the arbitrator ruled in his favor.

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The town sued to reverse the decision in state Supreme Court, which issued its denial in 2012. The town then appealed to the Appellate Division.

Ed Yule, the Northport attorney who represented Perks, said the latest decision is "magnificent . . . It was a long, long battle."

He said he expects to be paid about $5 million, since the case dates to 1999.

A.J. Carter, town spokesman, would not comment on the ruling other than to say the town's special counsel is "reviewing the decision and deciding how next to proceed."

In 1999, Perks sued the town and then-town board member Susan Scarpati-Reilly for sexual harassment, alleging the latter had struck him, stalked him and threatened to have him fired after he ended their 18-month affair. He also said the town allowed a hostile work environment.

The town investigated the alleged assault but refused to pay legal fees for either Perks or Scarpati-Reilly.

The appellate court's May 7 decision said, "the relevant collective bargaining agreement expressly created a prior legal obligation on the part of the Town to pay the subject legal fees incurred by the grievant," referencing a case in Brookhaven.

"This should never have been appealed," Yule said. "A waste, more waste, of taxpayer money."

No criminal charges were filed in the alleged assault.

In 2003, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Perks' $12 million sexual harassment lawsuit could go to trial.

In 2005, a federal jury found that Scarpati-Reilly's actions created adverse conditions for Perks, but he was not awarded compensation. The town paid the legal fees for Scarpati-Reilly in that case.

CORRECTION: Because of incorrect information supplied by the Town of Huntington, an earlier version of this story wrongly stated that a court ordered the town to pay legal fees for former town board member Susan Scarpati-Reilly in a sexual harassment case involving former town harbormaster William Perks.

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