As threatened by their attorney in October, Dewey employees who filed a complaint in June with the Delaware Public Integrity Commission against former Town Manager Marc Appelbaum have now filed an harassment complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It was submitted Nov. 16 by Wilmington-based attorney Rick Cross and 13 Dewey employees, including police Chief Sam Mackert, beach patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman, and building inspector Bill Mears, who are claiming ongoing harassment by town council and Appelbaum.
Even the town’s handpicked investigator, writes Cross in the complaint, found there were repeated instances of sexual harassment, use of racial slurs and use of lewd language by Appelbaum.
Earlier this summer, town council hired Wilmington-based attorney Max Walton to conduct an independent investigation into accusations by a large portion of town employees.
As part of Walton’s finished report, he recommended Appelbaum be reprimanded for his past actions, but not fired. The town never reprimanded the former town manager, instead agreeing to part ways through a separation agreement that paid Appelbaum the remainder of his two-year contract, set to expire in March 2018, and an additional $100,000.
In a Nov. 20 email, Cross said the EEOC complaint is intended to expose town council’s hypocrisy. He also said the complaint will ensure council understands punishing employees who bring complaints cannot and will not be tolerated.
The move to file a complaint came after council voted Nov. 11 in favor of investigating accounting practices used by the town’s police department for revenue from the sale of surplus military equipment – an issue made public during Walton’s investigation. The scope of the investigation can be expanded based on the initial round of inquiry.
“The last town council meeting made clear that this is retaliatory, which is illegal under federal and state law,” Cross wrote.
In a Nov. 22 email, Mayor TJ Redefer said the EEOC complaint is very disappointing and shows how much work the town still has to do.
“As mayor, I have specifically stated that we will not be taking any retaliatory action against anyone, and although our review of all policies and procedures must start somewhere, we are not targeting any specific department,” Redefer said.
Redefer said council’s goal is to discover where the town went off track, and then establish a new and better system.
“My feeling is that some people have taken a different approach that appears to be less comprehensive, and in so doing, must have given the appearance of being unfair to those that filed the complaint against the town,” he said. “It is time for Dewey Beach to begin again.”
In October, the integrity commission decided it has no jurisdiction to move forward.
“Despite the unconscionable conduct inflicted upon the parties who filed the complaints, the commission decided that the vast majority of the allegations were for conduct that was not within PIC's jurisdiction,” wrote Deborah Moreau, commission counsel, in an Oct. 18 email. “No cause, however sympathetic, can confer jurisdiction where it does not exist.”
Cross said his clients may be willing to discuss a buyout of their own.
“If it is clear the witch hunt ends, my clients will likely settle for a reasonable amount,” he said. “Frankly, at this point I’m not sure what dollar figure would work, and I have a number of clients who would all need to agree.”