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Former New London employee threatens suit, claims bullying

New London — A former city employee with a history of clashes with the city has filed a complaint with the state, claiming her layoff was in part retaliation for past complaints she lodged against members of the New London Police Department.

Cynthia Olivero filed the complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and simultaneously has notified the city she intends to sue over her layoff in June, when the city eliminated her position at the Senior Citizens Center.

She also awaits a decision on an appeal of her layoff with the state Labor Relations Board.

At the heart of Olivero’s claim is that despite her seniority over other city employees, Mayor Michael Passero did not permit her to “bump” into a new position.

Olivero requires accommodations for her multiple sclerosis and a spinal injury sustained on the job. Because of her medical condition, she needs access to an unlocked bathroom and a sit/stand desk. In her complaint, she calls “absurd” and “deplorable” the city’s contention that no other positions could accommodate her.

The city, through attorney Johanna Zelman, issued a statement in response to Olivero’s claims, denying the allegations.

“The City of New London has and will continue to act appropriately with respect to her employment. Because this is a personnel matter, the City of New London will not comment any further,” Zelman wrote.

Olivero alleges in her complaint, which alleges defamation, that her layoff is linked to false information provided by New London police Chief Peter Reichard and Capt. Todd Bergeson about her history at the police department.

In her notice of intent to sue, Olivero claims Reichard made false statements about her, including that she had been disciplined for releasing confidential juvenile information. Reichard and Bergeson additionally made statements about her work performance that violated terms of a settlement agreement with the city in 2016, she claims.

The 2016 agreement, Olivero said, contained a nondisclosure clause and disputes finding of an internal investigation conducted by Bergeson into her handling of police files in 2015. The city paid Olivero $54,000 as part of that settlement.

“What it boils down to is I stood up to police department bullies,” Olivero said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I’m disheartened that the police department stands by their blue code and they protect one another no matter what.”

The layoff, Olivero claims, is part of the pattern of bullying that has taken place through the years as the result of her clashes with the police union and some of her supervisors, including Bergeson and Reichard, that date back to when she was still secretary for retired police Chief Margaret Ackley.

Olivero was the target of several internal investigations through the years that most recently included the leak of a police video to The Day depicting Officer Deana Nott striking a cuffed man. Police never determined who leaked the video but Olivero adamantly denies it was her.

State police were called in for that investigation and in documents acquired by Olivero, Bergeson wrote to state police Detective Patrick Dwyer that Olivero was a “pathological liar.” Olivero later wrote a letter to Dwyer in which she says she was a target of the union and “the false accusations seem to be relentless.”

Olivero started with the city in 2008 and was secretary for Ackley. She claims she became an enemy of the police union after Ackley fell out of favor.

She also traces some of the turmoil with the union back to the retirement of her husband, former New London police Officer Jose Olivero, and the union’s denial of his ceremonial retirement badge. He had worked 24 years at the department but not 20 consecutive years as required by union rules.

Olivero first filed a CHRO complaint in 2014 for unfair treatment by the police union. She filed another in 2015, while Ackley was on leave, after she was moved from the third floor of the department to the second floor without access to an unlocked bathroom, only the public lobby bathroom.

Olivero said she was a respected and trusted employee under Ackley but trouble with the union for her started about the same time it did with Ackley.

In 2015, an internal investigation conducted by Bergeson found she violated five department regulations by keeping files in her desk that should not have been there. She was found in violation of regulations that included general inefficiency, neglect of duty, untruthfulness, failure to follow Freedom of Information Act procedures and use of department files for purposes other than official business.

Olivero was not disciplined and claimed the investigation was flawed, presenting evidence to that effect. The union filed a grievance against the city as a result.

“She was on the Ackley team. She was allowed under the Ackley administration to do whatever she wanted to do,” police union President Todd Lynch said. “Whatever she did, she got away with. Once (Ackley) was gone, the rules were equal.”

Bergeson, at the time, obtained an attorney and threatened a lawsuit against the city for being investigated after he completed the investigation into Olivero and because he claimed he was retaliated against by the previous police administration. There is no record of a pending lawsuit, however.

Olivero, during that 2015 investigation conducted by Bergeson, had fallen on the stairs at the rear of the police department, suffered back injury and filed a worker’s compensation claim. The city spent $203,150 on related medical, disability, legal and others expenses, the city reported at the time. The stairs have since been rebuilt.

Olivero was shifted to the senior center position in 2017. She filed a CHRO complaint in 2018 and later filed an intent to sue after the city released the complaint with what she considered embarrassing medical information to The Day. She chose not to file a lawsuit.

“June 2019 was the City of New London’s first opportunity to lay me off for my previous complaints, as my prior union contract had a ‘no lay off' clause,” Olivero wrote in her most recent CHRO complaint. “... The City’s conduct is especially egregious because they are fully aware that I’m an exemplary employee, who has set in place measure that are proactive and have saved countless man hours and taxpayer dollars. This ‘lay-off' is solely based on retaliation for my prior CHRO complaints.”

g.smith@theday.com 

Editor's Note: This version clarifies that Mayor Michael Passero does not mention Cynthia Olivero's medical conditions in his letter declining to shift her into a different position.

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