In the long-running legal furor that has gripped Saugus Town Hall, it seemed like a fairly routine request. The lawyer handling a former employee’s whistle-blower suit against the town asked for “all documents concerning allegations” related to James Rivers’s two-year tenure as the town’s information technology director.
Town officials took the request quite literally, it seems, responding with nearly 49,000 pages of material. Somewhere around page 8,000 — amid copies of flu shot reminders and snow removal notices — were the names, Social Security numbers, and bank account details for nearly 1,200 Saugus town employees.
“I was stunned,” said Rivers’s lawyer, Elayne Alanis, a Boston employment lawyer, who said the “document dump” seemed intended to bury her in needless material. “I did not ask for anyone’s Social Security number, or their banking information. . . .”
There was, she said, “no way in the world” such personal, confidential information should have been disclosed.
In the world of suburban government, feuds among town factions are not all that unusual, and can sometimes rival the cutthroat ferocity of big-city politics. The drama unfolding in Saugus ranks, in its own way, as one of the more memorable.
The disclosure of the town workers’ confidential financial information was only the latest twist in the legal battles that have roiled the town since early 2015. That was when Town Manager Scott Crabtree sued for wrongful termination after being fired for alleged financial and managerial offenses.
In March, after residents voted to recall four of the town’s five selectmen, Crabtree was reinstated. But his case against three former selectmen continues, and two other former employees have since filed whistleblower lawsuits, which include allegations of illegal business activity, cellphone use, and campaign sign-law violations.
In his claim, now pending in Salem Superior Court, Rivers contends that he was fired by the town in July in retaliation for testifying before the Board of Selectmen that Crabtree had asked him to delete material from Crabtree’s town-issued laptop and cellphone. Rivers said he refused to do so.
After discovering the personnel data, Alanis notified a lawyer representing the town, saying she felt obliged to bring the matter to the town’s attention, given the potential privacy implications.
“Who prepared this information? Who guarded it?” Alanis said.
Michael Brier, a Boston lawyer representing the town in the Rivers case, said the disclosure was inadvertent, and that he had asked Alanis to keep the information confidential.
“The town takes protecting the privacy of its employees seriously,” he said. The town does not plan to notify employees about the lapse, he added.
“None of this is public information,” he said. “It cannot be disclosed to any third party.”
But a spokesman for the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation said towns are legally required to notify employees whose personal information “has been accidentally released or intentionally breached,” said Chris Goetcheus.
Jeffrey Catalano, the incoming president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said both sides have a mutual obligation to respect employees’ privacy. Given the large number of employees involved, the town should notify them, he said.
“It’s important not to downplay it,” he said. “The prudent thing to do is notify them.”
Bill Cross, president of the Saugus firefighters’ union and the chairman of the town’s retirement board, was shocked that sensitive information had been released.
“I think everyone has to be concerned if their information has been given out,” he said. “If someone’s Social Security number gets out, or their accounts get hacked, you could cripple someone.”
Rivers, whose information was included in the documents even though he was fired last July, said the lapse was worrisome.
“Why is the town of Saugus giving out people’s personal information?” he said.
Crabtree, the town manager, did not return a call seeking comment.
In her discovery request, Alanis had sought e-mails and other documents pertaining to Rivers’s job performance. Rivers worked for the town from April 2013 until July 2015.
Just before Memorial Day weekend, Alanis said she received a disk in the mail from Brier containing nearly 49,000 pages of documents, many of them irrelevant to the case.
“I think it’s a deliberate attempt to bury me in documents, so that we’ll give up,” Alanis said.
Brier would not comment on the decision to provide so many documents. But the material, examples of which Alanis shared with the Globe, includes many extraneous items. An e-mail from January 2011, two years before Rivers was hired by the town, asks, “Does everyone have their milk and bread? We act very much like the birds, before a storm, don’t we?”
Another e-mail from April 2015 notes that the town’s direct deposit for the week totaled about $938,000.
By Thursday, Alanis had managed to get through just one-third of the documents.
“I’ve found hundreds of pages of information that was not responsive to my request,” she said. “I think it’s absurd.”
Kathy McCabe can be reached at Katherine.McCabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.