Five years after his firing, former Winooski City Manager Josh Handverger's case against the city he used to run began in Rutland Federal Court.
He claims Winooski improperly fired him and is seeking unspecified damages. On September 30, 2008, the city council narrowly voted to terminate Handverger's contract. Those voting 'yes' cited poor managerial skills and a failure to discuss pending legal action against him when he applied for the job. Handverger says he didn't attend that final meeting because it coincided with the high holy day of the Jewish New Year.
Handverger's attorney argues that the meeting on Rosh Hashanah forced his client to decide between his religious rights and his contractual rights. The Lawyer for the city of Winooski argued that it was Handverger's political gamesmanship that led to the conflict.
Tension began brewing in the spring of 2008 after Handverger attempted to fire the city's police chief, Steve McQueen. Complaints from residents and city employees about Handverger piled up by late-summer. Because his contract began in October 2007, the city could fire him at its discretion up to one year later. He and the city agreed to hold a hearing, but two days prior city spokespeople say Handverger raised the holiday issue. They offered to delay the meeting in exchange for waiving the protections one year on the job would bring. He declined the delay and the city moved forward with the meeting without him, arguing he wasn't even entitled to a meeting because he was still a probationary employee and could be fired without one.
Daniel Richardson is President of the Vermont Bar Association. He says the Supreme Court and others already tackled many of the unique issues posed by the case. "It's kind of a difficult case because what he has to essentially prove is that they removed him, or took a negative action, because of his religious affiliation," Richardson said.
In April 2007 the Town of Sutton, Massachusetts agreed to settle a sexual harassment claim against Handverger for $165,000. A co-worker claimed that she saw porn on his office computer and that he offered her a promotion not to tell anyone about it.
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