Legal and personnel troubles at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport continued this week as a former airport employee filed a lawsuit against members of the airport commission, county, and airport management claiming that she faced retaliation for reporting concerns about the airport manager over his alleged drug use.
A complaint filed Wednesday at Dukes County superior court on behalf of Beth Tessmer alleges that she was suspended without pay from her job at the airport for voicing concerns about the alleged impairment of airport manager Sean Flynn.
The 45-page complaint filed by Ms. Tessmer’s attorney Theodore A. Saulnier names members of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission individually and as members of the commission, Mr. Flynn individually and as airport manager, assistant airport manager Deborah Potter and the county of Dukes County.
The lawsuit alleges some 35 counts, including slander and defamation, discrimination, retaliation in violation of the state whistleblower statute, wrongful discharge and negligent retention of an employee.
The latest legal action provides new details about an ugly workplace dispute that has bedeviled the airport commission over the last year, spilling frequently into public meetings. Ms. Tessmer, who was suspended and later terminated from her job at the airport, now has three separate complaints pending. One is with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. A separate complaint filed in Dukes County superior court claims wrongful termination and seeks reinstatement of her job. The latest complaint, filed this week, seeks treble lost wages, damages and a jury trial. That complaint is the next legal step following a so-called whistleblower or presentment letter sent six months ago, Ms. Tessmer’s attorney Theodore Saulnier told the Gazette Thursday.
Mr. Flynn is currently on an eight-week medical leave of absence from his job, granted at his request in June by the airport commission. Assistant airport manager Deborah Potter has been named acting manager.
The complaint filed this week alleges that beginning around December 2012, Ms. Tessmer and other airport employees “began to notice their manager, defendant Mr. Flynn, acting in a manner consistent with someone who was under the influence of intoxicating substances during working hours, at the airport.”
Ms. Tessmer and other employees allegedly observed Mr. Flynn ingesting what appeared to be prescription medications “on numerous occasions” at work, and that Ms. Tessmer observed Mr. Flynn to be unsteady on his feet, have garbled speech, pinpoint pupils and displaying mood swings and loss of control of his emotions.
According to the lawsuit, Ms. Tessmer was concerned about the safety of the public because Mr. Flynn was driving personal and airport vehicles on public ways while impaired. In May 2013, Mr. Flynn was allegedly walking on an active runway without the required communications equipment in his possession while incoming aircraft approached, the complaint said.
In the month before President Obama visited the Vineyard in August 2013, the complaint said, Ms. Potter told airport employees, including Ms. Tessmer, “that the defendant, Mr. Flynn, promised not to use drugs while the president’s C-17 transport planes were at the airport offloading equipment needed for the president.”
Ms. Tessmer also alleges that Mr. Flynn directed sexually related comments and insults toward her.
The complaint filed this week contains affidavits from other airport employees and some records not previously made available, including Ms. Tessmer’s letter of suspension.
In November 2013 she was suspended without pay for two weeks by Mr. Flynn for poor job performance and insubordination. In December 2013 she filed a complaint with MCAD; the complaint was later amended and remains pending. In April of this year, following failed attempts at mediation over the MCAD complaint, the airport commission voted to terminate Ms. Tessmer.
Two months later Mr. Flynn went on medical leave following a domestic incident with his wife that involved Edgartown and West Tisbury police and triggered an emergency meeting of the airport commission.
The complaint filed by Ms. Tessmer this week also alleges that the airport commission held a series of private meetings that did not conform to the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law and amounted to civil conspiracy.
“The plaintiff has suffered physical, emotional and financial damage as a result of this conspiracy,” the complaint said.
Current airport commissioners named in the lawsuit are Norman Perry, Constance Teixeria, James Coyne, Peter Bettencourt and Denys Wortman and former commissioners John Alley and Benjamin Hall. Ms. Texeira is the current chairman; Mr. Alley is the former chairman. Ms. Texeira could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
The airport is also engaged in another lawsuit of its own in superior court. In the spring, the airport commission filed a lawsuit against the county commission asking a judge to declare its legal autonomy in managing airport affairs.