Former employee sues city, blames mismanagement for water, sewer issues

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By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer

Crews respond to a water main break on Donald Lynch Blvd. on May 11. A recent lawsuit against the City of Marlborough has made a number of allegations regarding alleged mismanagement of the city’s water and sewer infrastructure. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)
Crews respond to a water main break on Donald Lynch Blvd. on May 11. A recent lawsuit against the City of Marlborough has made a number of allegations regarding alleged mismanagement of the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.
(Photo/Dakota Antelman)

MARLBOROUGH – A former Water and Sewer General foreman who is currently suing the City of Marlborough, recently said he thinks issues he raised to superiors, including leaks, broken hydrants, a lack of water redundancy and understaffing at the Water Division may be to blame for a spate of water main breaks in town.

That former foreman, Gerald Ouillette, also said in a statement to the Community Advocate that he believes Marlborough’s high rate of development has put an increased demand on the city’s water system further contributing to the current problems.

Department of Public Works (DPW) Assistant Commissioner of Operations Christopher LaFreniere did not respond to a request for comment.

Trish Bernard, the executive aide to the Marlborough Mayor’s Office, declined to comment on an ongoing case.

Former employee sues city, blames mismanagement for water, sewer issues
Crews respond to a water main break on Donald Lynch Blvd. on May 11. A recent lawsuit against the City of Marlborough has made a number of allegations regarding alleged mismanagement of the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.
(Photo/Dakota Antelman)

Marlborough had not responded to Ouilette’s complaint as of August 1 according to court records.

The case was filed in Massachusetts Superior Court. In addition to the city itself, it also names Mayor Arthur Vigeant, Department of Public Works (DPW) Assistant Commissioner of Operations Christopher LaFreniere, former Marlborough Commissioner of Public Works John Ghiloni and former Marlborough Director of Human Resources Lynn Davine as defendants.

“As the city’s primary operator, it was my job to help identify and fix the problems with Marlborough’s water division,” Ouillette said. “It was my job to speak up. While it is unfortunate that the city took the actions it did in response to the concerns I raised, I am hopeful this will shed some light on a matter of real public concern.”

Marlborough’s Department of Public Works is headquartered at 135 Neil St. DPW Assistant Commissioner of Utilities Christopher LaFreniere is named alongside former DPW Commissioner John Ghiloni as defendants in a recent lawsuit filed by a former employee.
Marlborough’s Department of Public Works is headquartered at 135 Neil St. DPW Assistant Commissioner of Utilities Christopher LaFreniere is named alongside former DPW Commissioner John Ghiloni as defendants in a recent lawsuit filed by a former employee.
(Photo/Dakota Antelman)

The complaint alleges that Ouillette was repeatedly harassed and intimidated by superiors, not paid after working on weekends and after hours, and suspended in retaliation and ultimately fired for insubordination. This, the complaint alleges, happened after Ouillette raised concerns about the state of Marlborough’s water supply and understaffing of the DPW’s Water Division to Ghiloni.

The case argues that Ouillette’s actions were protected under the Massachusetts Public Employee Whistleblower Act

Filings also allege that LaFreniere ordered Ouillette to take actions that could have endangered the city’s water supply, including ordering him to repair a hydrant on a day when a thunderstorm could have exposed a water main to potential runoff and contamination. 

The city contested this in a letter informing Ouillette of his termination hearing. 

“The thunderstorms were not to arrive until the afternoon and there was not a valid reason for not sending out the crew to do hydrant repair,” that letter, written by Davine, said. “You were advised that, if a thunderstorm did arise, the staff could cease work and seek shelter.”

Former employee sues city, blames mismanagement for water, sewer issues
Crews respond to a water main break on Donald Lynch Blvd. on May 11. A recent lawsuit against the City of Marlborough has made a number of allegations regarding alleged mismanagement of the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.
(Photo/Dakota Antelman)

Meanwhile, Ouillette’s complaint further accuses Vigeant of participating in an alleged fabrication of a story that Ouillette was either smoking or vaping at the site of a gas leak as a pretext to take action against him.

Ouillette’s complaint continues for 38 pages, detailing a number of additional incidents of alleged harassment, mismanagement and retaliation that Ouillette said he experienced while working for the City of Marlborough.

“Ouillette stated that the stress caused by the events described in the complaint ‘changed [him] as a person,’” wrote Rodden. “He developed significant symptoms of emotional distress, including a sleeping disorder and an eating disorder.  He would come home every night stressed to the point where he would fall asleep almost immediately. His marriage of twenty-five years ended.”

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