By Chris Paul
In a scathing 20-page order, Superior Court Judge, Andrew Schulman, found Town Manager, Michael Malaguti, made a “frivolous sexual harassment complaint” against former Town Councilor, Deb Paul. In addition, the judge found Malaguti and the town of Londonderry improperly tried to shield the document from the public. Even after being ordered by the court to turn over the document, it took 30-days to comply.
The complaint was made during the final weeks of Deb Paul’s term as a Town Councilor, and according to Paul, the issue more or less highlighted what she felt she had to deal with throughout her term.
The complaint was filed with the council against Paul because of a comment she made on Feb. 6 and it took her eight months to get a copy of the complaint.
During the Feb. 6 Town Council meeting, Paul tried to explain why she felt having the Town Planner and Economic Developer take on a dual role was a conflict. She stated, “… that’s a conflict of interest with the Planner being in economic development. You have someone seducing businesses to come here and then looking at their plans. That’s not a conflict of interest?”
Malaguti took exception to this statement, filing a complaint to the Town Council following the meeting.
Hours before the next council meeting on March 6, a meeting that would be Paul’s final one, Town Council Chairman, John Farrell, asked Paul to get there early to discuss something. When asked what it was in regards to, he responded that he had a document he needed to show her.
The document was a complaint letter that Malaguti had drafted on Feb. 12.
She briefly read the letter, and asked for a copy, but was told it wasn’t a public document, the town would be retaining it.
Feeling that this was not a document protected from being released to the public, she asked her lawyer, Kevin Coyle, to make an inquiry to have the document released. He too was denied.
Shortly after that, Coyle filed for a hearing with the state superior court to have the document released.
Three months later on June 1, Judge, Andrew Schulman, heard both sides of the case appearing in Superior Court. Malaguti attended the hearing, along with town attorney, Elizabeth Bailey, Farrell, and councilor, Chad Franz. The town argued that it was a letter pertaining to an employee and exempt from 91-A request and Paul argued that it was a public document, since it was released to the Town Council and imagined it had been shared with others.
After that hearing, nearly five months later on Thursday, Oct. 26, the judge ruled in Deb Paul’s favor.
The “Final Order” from the judge was a 20-page document that stated, “The court not only disagrees with the town (and that is enough), but finds the town’s position to be objectively unreasonable,” and ordered the town to provide with the requested documents and pay Paul’s attorneys’ fees and costs in connection with this matter because “this lawsuit was necessary to enforce compliance with RSA Chapter 91-A, and the town should have known that its position was unlawful.”
Schulman said, “Michael J. Malaguti, filed a frivolous complaint against plaintiff, Deb Paul, under the Town’s Policy Against Harassment.
Schulman also noted, “Malaguti’s complaint was grounded solely on his objection to statements Councilor Paul made at a public Town Council meeting on Feb. 6, 2023. Essentially, Councilor Paul opined that a recent staff reorganization created an inherent “conflict of interest” by combining the roles of Planning Director and Director of Economic Development. In Paul’s view, the roles are in tension because the Economic Development director is charged with enticing businesses to move to or expand their presence in the town, while the Planning director must ensure that all proposed plans conform to the town’s land use restrictions. This means that the Planning director must sometimes tell business owners “no.”
Schulman also stated, “Malaguti made two claims in his harassment complaint. First, he insisted that Councilor Paul’s reference to “seducing businesses” amounted to sexual harassment. Malaguti argued that the phrase was “abhorrent” because (a) the current Town Planner/Development director is female, (b) the term has “sexual overtones” and “refer[s] directly to sexual encounters,” and (c) Councilor Paul had previously raised similar concerns regarding the combined role of Town Planner/Development Director with Malaguti, who is male, without using any form of the word “seduce.”
Second, Malaguti claimed that the language quoted above “publicly disparage[ed] one of my subordinates by suggesting she lacks integrity.”
Malaguti’s letter stated, “Councilor Paul’s use of words carrying sexual overtones, or more accurately, referring directly to sexual encounters, is abhorrent, and I doubt Councilor Paul would have used these words to refer to a male or an older female.”
He also took issue with Councilor Paul publicly disparaging one of his subordinates by suggesting she lacks integrity.
Malaguti’s complaint finished with, “I am a white male. But count me among those who have no interest in working for an employer that would tolerate such conduct.”
In the Order, the Judge commented, “The substance of Malaguti’s compliant is a matter of public record. Councilor Paul’s comments were made in the public session of a public hearing.”
He added, “The town’s residents have a right to know how the person they hired to manage the town’s administration does his job. The town has bestowed considerable authority in Malaguti. It has a legitimate interest in monitoring how he uses or abuses that authority. Likewise, the town has a keen interest in how its elected officials behave.
By contrast, the town has only a minimal interest in nondisclosure.
Public disclosure of a sexual harassment complaint may chill future complaints. An employee with a good faith claim of sexual harassment may be dissuaded from making a report if they believed it would become a public document.
In this case the highest-ranking administrative officer of a town made a frivolous complaint against an elected official to punish the elected official’s constitutionally protected speech. The disclosure of this compliant should have no chilling effect on future good faith complaints.”
The judge used the word “frivolous” five times in the 20-page document describing the Town Managers action.
Coyle was shocked with what transpired after the Right-to-Know request, “What should have taken the town two minutes and maybe 15 cents to comply with a simple RSA 91-a request has cost the town over $15,000. The town’s hostility to the public’s right to know is astounding.”
He said, “The request Deb made was for what was very clearly a public document. That the town fought so hard to shield Malaguti from embarrassment is astounding.”
Coyle also added, “Having done RSA 91-a work for over 25-years, I tried very hard to get them to turn over the document without going to court. We gave them a lot of chances to just simply comply with the law. The town wasted valuable public resources. The Town Council should look at the judge’s order and reevaluate how they respond to these requests. Just follow the law.”
Paul found the judge’s decision validating, “This was the kind of thing I dealt with on a fairly regular basis as a member of the Town Council. I needed to guard my every word, fearing that someone would claim some sort of conflict.”
Paul added, “This ordeal has been a waste of taxpayer resources, if the manager felt so strongly about his opinion, why wouldn’t he have just released the document. It took two attorneys, countless hours, and a judge to find that what was done was wrong. The judge’s conclusion solidified that the whole matter was frivolous.”
She said, “There’s been a lot of talk at recent council meetings about how much work and money it takes to deal with 91-A requests and this is a prime example of why they are being made. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to take it to this extreme to get public documents.”
Malaguti declined to comment on the judges ruling.
The Complaint Letter can be found in the link here and judges Final Order can be found in the link here.