Published August 28. 2012 4:00AM
Stonington - Highway Department employee Ernie Santos, who has been suspended by the town on two occasions since 2011, has filed a complaint against the town with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities alleging he has been the target of repeated workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
The commission will conduct a review to determine if the complaint has merit and should go forward. State law also offers the town, which is being represented by the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, various options to resolve the complaint short of mediation or formal investigation by the commission.
Santos said he has been discriminated against because he had filed union grievances and is a recovering alcoholic.
In January 2011, the town said Santos pushed a fellow employee and then brought a 3½-inch, curved-blade knife to sharpen at work, which was seen as an implied threat to intimidate the same employee. The town, which suspended Santos for three days without pay and made him attend anger management classes, cited him for making other threatening comments and gestures to fellow employees over several years.
The town then suspended Santos for three days in connection with a May 4 incident in which he got angry with another employee over who was going to use a lawnmower and allegedly threw a 5-gallon gas can on the ground. The town has warned Santos that any further behavioral issue, threats or retaliation against employees could subject him to further discipline, up to firing.
In a detailed affidavit that accompanied his complaint, Santos disputed the town's version of what occurred, saying he never threatened anyone and that other employees distorted what occurred. He said co-workers who tried to corroborate his version of what happened were threatened.
Santos detailed numerous alleged incidents in which he said a group of co-workers continually harassed him and tried to goad him into doing something that would get him fired. In one incident, he said an employee got in his face and repeatedly challenged Santos to punch him.
"He repeated this 4-5 times and said who will they believe me or you," Santos wrote.
Santos said he has worked hard to keep a low profile, avoid confrontations and has resumed counseling to help him cope with the stressful workplace environment.
Santos wrote that his problems began back in 2008 when his job was eliminated because he did not hold the proper commercial driver's license. He later got his job back after obtaining the license and obtaining a favorable arbitration ruling.
First Selectman Ed Haberek declined to comment Monday because of the pending litigation.