Stonington's Santos appeals disciplinary suspension

Stonington - Highway Department employee Ernie Santos has appealed his latest three-day suspension without pay, saying that his actions did not call for a suspension and that a written or verbal warning would have been more appropriate.

In the union grievance he filed over the discipline, Santos wrote that the discipline, which also includes additional anger management counseling, should be reduced and he should be reimbursed for his lost wages.

The town has disciplined Santos for 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 gas splattered on the ground and on Santos. There is a question about whether the lawnmower was running at the time.

An investigation by Public Works Director Joe Bragaw found that Santos' action put himself and his fellow workers "in harm's way." The incident comes 16 months after the town suspended Santos for three days without pay and made him attend anger management classes for threatening fellow employees.

The grievance made it way to First Selectman Ed Haberek after being denied by Public Works Director Joe Bragaw. If Haberek also rejects it, an arbitrator will rule on it.

In his letter to Haberek, Santos said the mower was not running at the time of the incident and he dropped, but did not throw, the gas can. He added that none of the employees in the immediate area were smoking and that if the spout opened and gas spilled, it was "incidental."

"I feel that I did not put anyone in harm's way" and "it was certainly not my intention to put anyone in harm's way," Santos wrote.

Santos declined to speak publicly about the incident on Monday.

The town has now warned Santos that any further behavioral issue, threats or retaliation against employees could subject him to further discipline, up to firing. Haberek said Santos is aware of the gravity of the situation and understands the need to better handle certain situations.

But Haberek also said this week that the town does not consider Santos a threat to his fellow employees, and he is not worried that any future incident could pose a liability problem for the town.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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