ROCKLAND — A former Rockland assessor was paid $168,000 to settle a lawsuit she filed over her firing by the city after she suffered a head injury in a car crash.

The settlement agreement between Rockland and Doreen French was provided Friday to The Courier-Gazette through a state Freedom of Access request. The agreement was released after the federal lawsuit was formally dismissed March 6 in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Rockland does not admit any liability in the case. The settlement was reached, according to the agreement, “to avoid the expense, delay, inconvenience and the uncertainty of protracted litigation.”

The settlement consists of a check for $43,000 to French that goes for lost wages and will have taxes withheld.

A second check will go to French and Eastern Maine Law for $125,000. That money is for disputed claims of noneconomic damages including alleged emotional distress and attorneys’ fees.

The city is paying $10,000 as its deductible, while the city’s insurance carrier will pay the remainder.

The agreement also has a clause that the city will not say anything disparaging about her for the next 10 years. A letter outlining her work for the city and that her dismissal was not for performance reasons was written by City Manager Tom Luttrell. Luttrell was not working for the city when the firing occurred.

French signed the agreement Feb. 21 and Luttrell, on behalf of the city, on Feb. 24.

French was hired by the city in February 2016. On Nov. 9 of that year, she suffered a serious concussion from a motor vehicle crash.

Her doctor issued a notice to the city that she was suffering from mild amnesia, delayed verbal responses, headaches and vision problems. The doctor said she was unable to work on a computer with these medical issues.

The doctor initially informed the city that French would need to be out of work through May 2017, but later reported that she could begin working one day a week beginning in January 2017, and could build up from that point.

But on Dec. 20, 2016, then-Rockland City Manager Audra Caler-Bell terminated French’s employment, saying her injury occurred in a non-work-related accident.

“As a result, this letter will serve as notice of your separation from employment with the city effective Dec. 20, 2016. This separation is non-disciplinary; we simply can no longer hold your position open, particularly with the lengthy and uncertain period of incapacity,” Caler-Bell stated in her letter.

“I understand the past few months have been incredibly difficult for you and the factors that have led to your sustained absence were out of your control. We appreciate your dedication to the city, and wish you the best in the future,” the letter went on.

French filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission in January 2017 and the agency issued her a right-to-sue letter April 11, 2018.

The lawsuit pointed out that the city had a former assessor who could have filled in during French’s absence.

Dennis Reed, who served as assessor for Rockland before French, returned to work as assessor from December 2016 through October 2017, when the city appointed Roxy LaFrance to the post.

Rockland had maintained that the accommodation requested by French was unreasonable and would have caused the city undue hardship, that the city did not discriminate against French for her medical condition, that French was an employee-at-will and could be fired for any lawful reason, that she was not eligible for protection under state and federal disability laws, and that she was unable to perform her job.

French had sought back pay, unspecified damages and attorney’s fees.

The lawsuit lists her residence in New Hampshire.


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