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Commission drops charges against Ashfield’s ex-police chief

ASHFIELD — The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has dismissed 3- to 8-year-old complaints of sexual harassment and racial discrimination against former police chief John Svoboda of Ashfield, on the grounds that the allegations — made by two former town employees — were either inconclusive or were filed too late for the commission to have the jurisdiction to investigate.

An MCAD complaint was filed in August 2009 by former town clerk Maryellen Cranston, saying that Svoboda subjected her to a hostile work environment, sexual harassments, and retaliation. This charge was dismissed for “lack of probable cause,” according the commission’s findings, issued on Sept. 30.

Some of Cranston’s complaints reportedly occurred in 2004, while she was a police clerk. But the MCAD disposition said that allegations made before Oct. 22, 2008 were outside their 300-day statute of limitations.

Allegations made against Svoboda by then-police sergeant Kristina M. Nunez were dismissed because some of the complaints arose outside the statute of limitations and because the Commission was unable to conclude that some of the information “establishes a violation of the statutes.”

Nunez filed an MCAD complaint saying the police department had discriminated against her “by subjecting me to unequal terms and conditions of my employment and a hostile work environment, on the basis of my national origin (Puerto Rican), religion (Catholic) and sexual harasssment.”

Jamie Williamson, the investigating commissioner, wrote: “Based upon the Commission’s investigation, the Commission is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes a violation of the statutes. This does not certify that (Svoboda) is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this complaint.”

Both Cranston and Nunez were given 10 days to appeal the dismissal of charges, but neither has appealed so far, according to an MCAD spokeswoman.

These and other complaints about the police chief during the summer of 2009 sparked controversy in this small town, resulting in several departures from the police department and from other town positions.

Before these complaints were filed with MCAD, they were brought to the town Selectboard, which held an executive session disciplinary hearing that started at 4 p.m. and went on past midnight.

After investigating the women’s complaints, the Selectboard suspended Svoboda for 90 days, required him to complete anti-harassment training and to publish a letter of apology to the town.

Svoboda, who denied the women’s charges, resigned from his police chief’s postion in December 2009.

Nunez and Cranston’s complaints were filed with MCAD in September 2009.

Nunez was not reappointed to the Police Department for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2010, and Cranston resigned, after her three part-time positions in town government were reduced by the Selectboard.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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