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Cohasset

Cohasset employee alleges age discrimination

A 64-year-old former Cohasset municipal employee has filed a complaint with the state alleging that he was discriminated against by town officials because of his age, the latest in a series of personnel disputes within Town Hall.

Mark D. Brennan filed a complaint against the town and Acting Town Manager Michael Milanoski with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, alleging that because of his age he was stripped of his duties as director of operations for Cohasset and treated poorly, and that his job eventually went to a much younger man.

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Town officials declined to comment on the complaint, which comes just months after they suspended the police chief and fired the previous town manager.  

“It’s a litigation matter and I can’t discuss it,” Milanoski said last week of Brennan’s complaint. Paul Carlson, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, also declined to comment.

But while he wouldn’t comment directly on Brennan’s complaint, Milanoski said in an interview that his predecessor had signed a contract with Brennan “without any authority to do so.” He said the director of operations position hadn’t been approved by Town Meeting and there was no money in the budget for the $108,000 annual salary in the contract.

Brennan, a retired engineer, started working for the town in 2005 as a special assistant to the town manager. He and a 76-year-old co-worker, Tom Gruber, were in charge of various projects, including the Greenbush commuter rail line construction in town, and were known locally as the “Greenbush Guys.” 

In his written complaint to the MCAD in October, Brennan, a Cohasset resident, said he eventually took responsibility for overseeing all the town’s major construction projects. He worked full time and was in charge of writing and maintaining project budgets, applying for grants, and overseeing contractors and engineers, he said.

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In August 2011, selectmen and then Town Manager Michael Coughlin made Brennan’s position more formal, naming him the town’s director of operations; this past January,  Brennan signed a contract formalizing the job. But selectmen rescinded the contract after they fired Coughlin and brought in 43-year-old Milanoski to take his place.

At the time he was hired, Milanoski was suing the town of Attleboro to get back his job as executive director of the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority, saying he had been fired for political reasons.

“Almost immediately upon starting in his role as interim Town Manager, Mr. Milanoski undermined my role by refusing to meet with me to discuss projects and by refusing to allow me to bring on my staff member,” Gruber, Brennan wrote. “On March 30, 2012, Mr. Milanoski terminated my employment, alleging that he didn’t have the money to pay me.”

Brennan said he met with two selectmen, who told him he could work on a “project by project basis” until the May Town meeting, scheduled to vote on making the director of operations a permanent position. “They assured me that this position was still a perfect fit for me,” Brennan wrote.

Brennan said that while he worked in an interim capacity, “Mr. Milanoski continued to be degrading to me. He stripped me of my office and was generally unavailable whenever I attempted to meet with him. This maltreatment culminated in a meeting where Mr. Milanoski accused me of inappropriately billing my work, which I had not done.

“I denied any wrongdoing, [Milanoski] stated to me: ‘Coughlin was easy, DeLuca was easy. I don’t know why you are so hard,’ ” Brennan wrote, referring to fired town manager Coughlin and suspended police chief Mark DeLuca. 

Brennan said he applied for his old job and learned through the press that it had been filled with a 39-year-old in September. Now 40, Brian Joyce, a civil engineer, earns $86,000 annually in the position of “director of project management and planning.” 

Brennan said Milanoski has hired four more new employees, “all of whom are significantly younger than me.”

Coughlin said in an interview that he was within his authority under Cohasset’s “strong town manager” legislation to negotiate the contract with Brennan.

“I’m delighted that Mark is seeking justice because he definitely has a winner,” Coughlin said. “It’s clear that he has been discriminated against, and I look forward to testifying on his behalf.”

Milanoski and the town have 21 days to respond to Brennan’s charges, according to Barbara Green, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Brennan then must file a rebuttal before a state investigator weighs in, she said.

If the state determines there was discrimination, it has wide leeway in imposing a penalty, from assessing monetary damages to mandating anti-discrimination training, she said.

She said there is no set time for an investigation. “It’s kind of like working on an old house; you never know how much work is required until you open up the walls and see what’s there,” she said.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.

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