By Beth David, Editor
Jonathan Alves, who was sworn in as a Fairhaven police officer in August of 2015, and then terminated in March of 2016, has won a lawsuit in Superior Court with a jury finding that the town improperly fired him because of a handicap, alcoholism, and awarding him $830,000. It is a violation of Mass. General Law to discriminate against an employee due to a disability/ handicap, and alcoholism is recognized as a handicap.
The case has wound its way from Bristol County District court to Superior Court over the last seven years, with the town winning a summary judgment in 2019 in District Court. The case was refiled in Superior Court in February of 2019.
The jury found that the town knew Mr. Alves suffered from alcoholism and fired him because of it.
According to information provided by attorney Ryan Pavao of Beauregard, Burke and Franco, the jury awarded Mr. Alves $655,000 in lost wages, past and future; $150,000 for emotional pain and suffering; $25,000 in punitive damages.
Mr. Pavao said the firm will also seeking attorneys’ fees. He estimated it could be as much as $300,000 due to the long duration of the case.
He also said the Mr. Alves had orignally asked to be reinstated, but as the case proceeded the relationship “deteriorated to the point that reinstatement would no longer be possible,” due to the “baseless rumors and accusations against Mr. Alves” spread by the town and police department.
According to court documents available online, and a press release by the town of Fairhaven, Mr. Alves was terminated for a number of infractions, and not because of his alcoholism.
Mr. Alves disputed some of the allegations in the court filings by the town, most notably that he was intoxicated at work on March 18, 2016. The town contends that Mr. Alves admitted to being intoxicated from the night before, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Mr. Alves contends he never said he was intoxicated, and his supervisor allowed him to drive his cruiser, armed with his service weapon on that day.
Mr. Alves checked himself into a rehab the next day and has been sober ever since, according to court filings.
In a statement, Mr. Alves’s attorneys said they were “very satisfied and content” with the verdict.”
“It was very obvious that the members of the jury were all incredibly conscientious and paid very close attention to all of the facts of the case,” they wrote. “As a result, they reached a verdict that is just and fair. We hope their verdict sends a message to all communities that handicapped discrimination is unlawful and will not be tolerated. We are extremely pleased for Mr. Alves and his family, and only hope that this result can provide them some solace after the nearly seven years of pain and suffering that they have had to endure during the pendency of this case.”
The town of Fairhaven, however, called the decision “extremely troubling,” in a press release.
They contend that Mr. Alves was not terminated due to his disability, and that his misconduct would have gotten him fired anyway. In its press release and in court documents, the town says that he was terminated because he had shown a pattern of poor judgment and immaturity. He was also still in the probationary period, which means, according to the town, that he could be fired for any reason.
“Alcoholism is a legitimate handicap within the meaning of the law, however, an employee is not legally entitled to the protection of the law if he or she commits misconduct that would cause a non-handicapped person to be fired,” wrote the town in the press release. “That is clearly the case with Mr. Alves and the Town of Fairhaven.”
Court documents, however, make it clear that nothing is clear.
The town takes the original complaint point by point and denies many of them.
At issue are several allegations, including that Mr. Alves argued with a police when he was pulled over, “apparently believing that as a member of the Police Department, he wasn’t subject to speeding laws,” reads the press release.
He was reprimanded for that incident and also for posting a picture of himself on Instagram with a large knife and handgun with the caption “Bad MFR.”
The town “falsely and recklessly or intentionally accused [Mr. Alves] of being intoxicated” on the job to “cover their real purpose of unlawfully terminating” him, his addiction to alcohol, reads the court complaint.
Mr. Alves also contends, in court documents, that his prospects for employment with other police departments were ruined due to the defamation by the town and PD.
However, the town says, in court filings that “the written personnel record was never released nor requested by any potential employer.”
They contend that Mr. Alves’s attorneys released the information about the case to the media, which damaged his reputation.
“The public continues to demand that police officers are trained and conduct themselves in a manner that protects, not jeopardizes the public safety,” wrote the town in its press release, adding that police officers have “awesome power to arrest us.”
Municipal leaders are expected to hold officers accountable when they abuse that power.
“We can’t have it both ways. We can’t demand that municipal leaders demand accountability from our police officers, and then punish them when they do exactly that,” they wrote.
According to the press release, the town is reviewing options with regard to appealing the decision.
In the 8/27/15 article in the Neighb News on the swearing in of four police officers, including Mr. Alves, his grandmother said he had wanted to be a police officer since he was a little boy. He now works in security at Bask.
Documents relating to Superior Court cases are on the state’s website and free for the public to download and read at https://www.masscourts.org/eservices/home.page.2). The town’s press release is available on the Town of Fairhaven website at https://www.fairhaven-ma.gov/home/news/press-release-alves-case
Click here to download the 2/2/23 issue: 02-02-23 AcushnetSch
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