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    Wednesday, May 31, 2023

    New London settles with former city employee over eliminated position

    New London — The city has settled a dispute with former city employee Cynthia Olivero and agreed to pay her $50,000 to stave off pending claims against the city and a threatened lawsuit.

    Olivero, who started with the city in 2008, was laid off from her job at the New London Senior Citizens Center in July 2019 after the city eliminated the position. Despite her seniority over other employees and ability to “bump” into a new position, the city told her there were no other positions that could accommodate her medical needs. She required accommodations for her multiple sclerosis and a spinal injury previously sustained during a fall on the stairs while working at the police department.

    Access to an unlocked bathroom and a sit/stand desk were required. Those accommodations were being met at the senior center, a job she had taken in 2017 after years of working at the police department.

    She had claimed the layoff was retaliation for her complaints against personnel at the police department and previous clashes with the police union and department supervisors, most notably Chief Peter Reichard and Capt. Todd Bergeson. The city has denied that claim. 

    Olivero had pending complaints with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, one stemming from her claims the chief and Bergeson had made false statements about her work performance and that Reichard had accused her of improperly releasing information on juvenile matters, which she denies. She argued that the alleged statements about her work performance violated terms of a settlement agreement with the city in 2016 related to an internal investigation into her alleged mishandling of police files.

    The latest settlement agreement, obtained by The Day through a Freedom of Information Act request, states in part: “the city strongly denies all of Olivero’s claims, charges and allegations that the city, and/or its employees harmed Olivero...” but “Olivero and City desire fully and finally to resolve, compromise and settle the Claim on an amicable basis and avoid the uncertainty, expense and burden of proceeding in court...”

    The settlement provides $33,333 to Olivero and an additional $16,666 to cover her legal fees. She has agreed to withdraw her claims and waived her right to be reinstated as a city employee. According to terms of the agreement, she is not to make disparaging statements against the city, its elected officials or employees. The city has agreed to limit its remarks to her future employers to “an employee in good standing as of her last day of employment.”

    The city was represented in the settlement by attorney Johanna Zelman, who said in an email on Friday that "The City continues to deny any wrongdoing. Settlement of this matter was a business decision only.”

    The settlement money is to be paid by the city’s insurer, the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency.

    Olivero was represented by New Haven attorney Michael Petela, who said the goal of the settlement was to provide Olivero with economic damages and payment for emotional distress.

    “Ms. Olivero is looking to put this behind her,” Petela said. “She wants to move on with her life.”

    Olivero had been the target of multiple internal investigations — she claims unfairly — at the police department when she worked there as a secretary, formerly under retired Chief Margaret Ackley.

    Ackley was a favorite target of the police union and was out on paid administrative leave in 2015, when Olivero was moved from the third to the second floor of the police department as part of a staff reorganization and police found several files in Olivero’s desk that the department alleged should not have been there. The documents included some related to her husband, a retired former New London police officer. After an internal investigation, Olivero was accused of violating departmental regulations but not disciplined. 

    Olivero has since filed a complaint with the Chief State's Attorney's Office over the handling of the internal investigation, which she argued was "fraught with blatant lies." 

    In May 2015, Olivero fell on a flight of concrete stairs at the rear of the police department and filed a worker’s compensation claim. The city has said it spent more than $200,000 on her medical, disability, legal and general expenses. The stairs later were repaired.

    Olivero's move to the police department's second floor led to another CHRO complaint on June 11, 2015. The complaint alleges that police maliciously failed to accommodate her multiple sclerosis when they moved her to the second floor, where she only had access to a locked public lobby restroom. Olivero received $54,000 in a settlement with the city.

    In 2017, Olivero was the subject of an investigation as police sought to find out who leaked a police video to The Day depicting Officer Deana Nott striking a handcuffed man. Olivero denies it was her and said the accusations were part of a pattern of bullying at the department. State police never determined who leaked the video.

    Olivero chose to take a job at the senior center in 2017. She filed a CHRO complaint in 2018 and later filed an intent to sue after the city released a copy of a previous CHRO complaint to The Day with what she considered embarrassing medical information.

    The City Council approved the settlement at a meeting earlier this month.


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