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Oyster Bay employee sues town, workers union over alleged harassment

Oyster Bay Town Hall is seen in this

Oyster Bay Town Hall is seen in this undated photo. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

An Oyster Bay employee has filed a lawsuit against the town and its public workers union alleging they failed to protect her from alleged harassment by a government critic. 

Linda Herman, who had been a secretary to the town clerk, alleges in the lawsuit filed last week in New York State Supreme Court in Mineola that the town failed to transfer her or defend her against “abusive” and “defamatory” statements made by Robert Ripp, who ran for town supervisor last year. That inaction created a “hostile work environment” that was “psychologically damaging” and left her afraid to drive alone or leave her home without her husband, according to the lawsuit.

“She lives in constant fear that he’s going to do something again to her,” Herman’s attorney, Genevieve Lopresti  of Seaford, said. Herman was transferred in March 2017 from the town clerk’s office to the town comptroller’s office after she made complaints, but it was not fast enough, Lopresti said.

“The town should have removed her from where she was immediately,” Lopresti said.  

The lawsuit seeks $1 million from the Civil Service Employees Association Local 881 union and unspecified damages from the town. 

Town Attorney Joseph Nocella said in an emailed statement that the town does not comment on pending litigation.

In October, Herman sued Ripp in New York State Supreme Court in Mineola alleging libel and defamation. That case remains pending.

Ripp’s attorney, John Palmer of Mineola, said Monday that his client is "a gadfly expressing himself; it's protected by freedom of speech and the First Amendment."

Ripp declined to comment.

Herman's lawsuit against the town and union alleges Ripp’s “abusive” behavior toward her began in 2012 when he started submitting Freedom of Information Law requests that she processed as part of her job in the town clerk’s office. It culminated in accusations Ripp made in emails, on social media and at town board meetings in 2017 that Herman and other town officials altered minutes of town meetings, according to the lawsuit.  

“He has accused her of committing a crime which she has not committed … she has not altered any of the transcripts,” Lopresti said.

Herman's lawsuit states that she corrected spelling errors in the minutes, including proper names, that the stenographer later incorporated into the final record. Although a review of the records would have shown Ripp’s accusations were false, town officials did not refute them, the lawsuit alleges.

New York State Open Meetings Law requires that meeting minutes contain a summary of motions, proposals, resolutions and a record of any votes.

Herman also alleged that Civil Service Employees Association Local 881 did nothing to help her after she told them about the situation .

CSEA Local 881 president Jarvis Brown said Herman had taken her concerns to union officials and that the union communicated her concerns to the town attorney’s office.

“What we did was explain to them [town attorneys] that the case needed to be looked into and, to my knowledge, that’s what I believe the town of Oyster Bay did,” Brown said.

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