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Groton Utilities director suspended due to alleged 'verbal abuse and bullying behavior'

Groton — Groton Utilities director Ronald Gaudet has been suspended for four weeks due to alleged “verbal abuse and bullying behavior towards employees,” according to city documents The Day obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Gaudet is set to return to work on Oct. 18 and is slated to complete "mutual respect training" by Dec. 31 and participate in counseling, according to a Sept. 20 notice of suspension and final warning from City Mayor Keith Hedrick. The suspension is unpaid.

The letter states that Gaudet “violated the City’s Employee Conduct Policy proscribing “Inappropriate Behavior” to include “Uncivil Behavior” and “Bullying.”” The letter says that if Gaudet engages in conduct in violation of the policy in the future, he will be “subject to discipline” up to and including termination.

Hedrick said in a phone interview Monday that after initial complaints were brought to him in mid- to late June, he consulted with the city’s attorney, Robert Berchem of Berchem Moses PC, before deciding to conduct an investigation.

“We acted as quickly as we could on this,” Hedrick said.

After the investigation was completed and the attorney briefed Hedrick on the results, Hedrick issued Gaudet a notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing scheduled for Sept. 8. The Sept. 7 letter also informed Gaudet he would be placed on paid administrative leave for the remainder of that week.

According to the pre-disciplinary letter, Berchem Moses had interviewed employees who reported nine "acts of misconduct" by Gaudet.

Hedrick said Monday that more than one employee complained about Gaudet's behavior, but he could not specify how many.

The complaints include that when Gaudet questioned a purchase order, he allegedly yelled and banged his fists so hard the employees could not understand what he was saying. On another occasion, he went into an employee’s office and threw a “tantrum,” threatening to take away “certain responsibilities and administrative controls,” such as badge access and surveillance footage. On a third occasion he allegedly threw papers and swore in response to the mayor signing personnel paperwork, according to the letter.

On several occasions Gaudet is accused of shouting profanities including telling one employee "I am gonna be your worst (expletive) nightmare," and on another occasion during a labor management meeting, got up, shouted "What the (expletive)" and ripped the cover off a thermostat before throwing it in a corner.

Five of the nine incidents occured this past spring and one in 2018. The letter does not list the dates of the other three.        

Hedrick also wrote to Gaudet that he understands that “the morale in your department is unacceptable based upon the fact that you have created a hostile work environment” and also understands that Gaudet “made several age-related comments to employees.”

According to the letter, the Sept. 8 hearing was to determine whether discipline was warranted, and Gaudet also had an opportunity to present information.

After the hearing, Hedrick had conversations with Berchem and issued the Sept. 20 disciplinary letter notifying Gaudet of his suspension.   

Gaudet, who has been director of Groton Utilities since 2015, could not immediately be reached to comment at his home on Monday.

Hedrick said last week that during Gaudet's absence, Groton Utilities employees Sue Blanchette and Mark Biron will serve as acting directors of administrative issues and operational issues, respectively.

k.drelich@theday.com

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