Federal judge says city HR director was wrongly terminated

Kathleen Waterbury

A federal judge has ruled that the city manager of East Providence acted illegally when he fired the human resources director.

U.S. District Judge William Smith ruled Tuesday that Richard Kirby fired Kathleen Waterbury without cause, violating the city's charter.

The ruling voids Waterbury's termination.

In February, the NBC 10 I-Team reported that Waterbury had formally accused three city leaders of sexual harassment and discrimination, naming Kirby, former acting city manager Paul Lemont, and Fire Chief Oscar Elmasian.

In the complaint filed with the state's Commission for Human Rights, Waterbury said she experienced inappropriate sexual comments and a hostile work place. She said she took her concerns to Kirby, who allegedly brushed them off and retaliated against her by threatening to fire her, according to the complaint.

In March, Waterbury confirmed that Kirby had fired her.

In Tuesday's ruling, the judge said there was nothing in Waterbury's file to warrant her termination and she was not offered progressive discipline, which is city practice.

In a statement, Waterbury's lawyers said the ruling means that Waterbury would resume her position. NBC 10 has reached out to the city, but has not received a response.

The attorneys also said the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights has recently acted on Waterbury's claim, issuing a "right-to-sue" letter. The attorneys say they are preparing court action against the city that will demand compensation and punitive damages.


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