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LEXINGTON

Officials stand behind police chief

By Brock Parker
Globe Correspondent / April 1, 2012
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Lexington officials have prepared a response to a Bedford woman’s allegation that sexual harassment by Police Chief Mark Corr drove her to quit her job with the department.

Susan Costa, 51, who worked as a civilian account clerk in the department until November, filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in February that said the chief had repeatedly rubbed her shoulders and made sexual comments around her and about her to others.

“We’re completely backing the chief,’’ said Town Manager Carl Valente, with the town filing its response to the state antidiscrimination agency on Friday.

Costa said she had confronted the chief in 2009, but the harassment continued until finally she felt she had to quit because it was making her so stressed.

“I just needed to get out of there,’’ Costa, who remains unemployed and is looking for a job, said in an interview. “I was ready to fall to pieces.’’

Corr, who has been chief of the Police Department since April 2009, referred all questions about the case to the town manager’s office.

Valente referred a Globe request for a copy of Lexington’s response to the state agency.

A commissioner at the agency, Sunila Thomas-George, declined to provide a copy last week, saying it was not a public record because it is part of the commission’s ongoing investigation into Costa’s allegations.

Valente declined to discuss specifics about the complaint, saying it is awkward to have the discussion through the press. But he said the town has found there was no violation.

Joe Sulman, Costa’s lawyer, said he expects to file a lawsuit on behalf of his client against the police chief in May, but she is first waiting for the town’s response to the MCAD complaint.

At first, Costa said, she did not give a reason why she was resigning from the force in November.

Since then, she’s had difficulty finding another job, Costa said. She said she filed the complaint because she thinks women should be treated with dignity and respect, and she wanted Corr’s behavior to stop.

“I felt I should be compensated for that,’’ Costa said. “It put me in emotional distress.’’

Costa said she began working for the Police Department in May 2007, handling everything from parking tickets to assisting people who showed up at the front door of the police station.

She said that within her first year on the job, Corr, who was a captain at the time, began to regularly rub her shoulders without her permission, standing behind her while she sat at her desk.

The first time she laughed, Costa stated in her complaint, but when he repeated the behavior she would flinch and tighten up until he stopped.

Costa also said Corr would invade her personal space by standing so close behind her that she could feel his breath on her neck, and he repeatedly made comments about her body, including a comment on how he’d just been thinking about Costa bending over a file cabinet. Costa said the remark was made in front of her supervisor and she was embarrassed.

In the summer of 2009, after Corr had been promoted to chief, Costa said, she got up the courage to confront him about his behavior, telling Corr she didn’t want to sue him, but she wanted the harassment to stop.

Costa said Corr didn’t agree that he had harassed her, but he told her he respected her feelings.

Afterward, Costa said, the chief seemed to be avoiding her for a while, but then the harassment resumed until she finally decided to quit.

“I stayed there longer than I should have, putting up with that,’’ she said. “Had that not occurred, I would probably still be there.’’

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.

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