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Former Saugus town manager files suit seeking $65k in pay

By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / April 8, 2012
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SAUGUS - Former Saugus town manager Andrew R. Bisignani and his old employer are squaring off in Superior Court, where he has filed a lawsuit seeking payment of just over $65,000 in unused sick leave and vacation time, money the town says it does not have in its budget to pay him.

The complaint alleges the town failed to pay Bisignani $18,667 for eight weeks of unused vacation time and $46,667 for 100 unused sick days accrued during his nine-year tenure as town manager. He was employed from Jan. 13, 2003, to Jan. 31, 2012, when he retired six months before the end of his contract.

Bisignani now is employed part time as the town administrator in Nahant.

His contract with Saugus entitled him to accumulate 40 vacation days and 100 sick days. But according to the complaint, he had a verbal agreement with the Board of Selectmen about how it would be paid to him. Eight weeks of vacation time would be included in his final paycheck issued on Feb. 8, 2012. Sick leave would be paid in two installments, on July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013.

The final paycheck included only one week’s vacation pay, a breach of the verbal agreement, the complaint states. Because of that, Bisignani now is seeking immediate payment of the sick time, according to the lawsuit.

In an interview, Bisignani said he filed the complaint after town officials did not return his phone calls to inquire about why he was not paid for eight weeks of vacation.

“There was no communication,’’ he said. “I served the town for nine years. I have a great respect and affinity for many people there . . . I am asking the town to honor my contract.’’

When his lawyer, Richard Villiotte of Revere, inquired about full payment, town officials told him there was no money in the town manager’s salary account to pay the vacation benefit, the complaint states.

In an interview, Saugus Town Counsel John Vasapolli did not dispute Bisignani is entitled to the payment. “The town intended to pay him whatever he is entitled to,’’ he said. “The problem is, there is no money in this year’s budget to pay him.’’

Joan Regan, the town accountant, said the town manager’s salary account only has enough money to pay the $2,149 weekly salary of the new town manager, Scott Crabtree. “You can’t overdraw the account,’’ she said. “If there isn’t enough money in the account, you have to wait for an appropriation.’’

Crabtree, who was appointed town manager on Tuesday, was the chairman of the Board of Selectmen at the time of Bisignani’s retirement. He did not return calls seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Bisignani’s retirement presented a unique challenge to the town, Regan said.

“He retired prior to the end of his contract. It came six months into the fiscal year. If he had retired on July 1, of course the vacation money would have been there,’’ she said.

Unused sick time payments usually require an appropriation by Town Meeting, she said. “Depending on the amount owed, it is usually paid out over two or three fiscal years,’’ she said.

Bisignani’s contract required selectmen to notify him six months before its expiration date if it were not going to be extended. In January, the board notified him that the pact would not be renewed. Bisignani, who had been applying for other jobs in the months before, opted to retire on Jan. 31. He went to work part time in Nahant in February.

Vasapolli said Bisignani’s decision to retire surprised selectmen. “He retired unexpectedly. The money he is looking for was not budgeted for in fiscal 2012,’’ he said.

Bisignani said his retirement should not be a factor. “I would have been entitled to the payment whether I retired, resigned, or was fired,’’ he said. “Other town employees, the police chief, fire chief, teachers, retired during my tenure. They all got their benefits. I am only asking for the same treatment.’’

The Board of Selectmen’s chairman, Michael Serino, would not comment on any discussions the board had with Bisignani about his retirement. He also would not comment on the lawsuit. But he said the board will submit an article for annual Town Meeting in May to appropriate money to pay his benefits. “It’s normal procedure. We’ve done it that way for 20 years,’’ he said.

Payment of vacation time or sick leave is considered a form of wages under state law. If they go unpaid, the first step to collect them is to file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office. Bisignani filed a complaint with that office’s Fair Labor and Business Practices Division.

On March 28, the AG’s office sent Bisignani a response, advising him to file a lawsuit in civil court. In civil court, a plaintiff may seek triple damages, but Bisignani’s lawsuit states he is seeking only the amount owed.

The town has until July 28 to file a formal response to the lawsuit.

The case is scheduled to be heard in Newburyport Superior Court.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.

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