The former parks and recreation director of Saco has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.

Joseph Hirsch worked for the city for 25 years, including 13 as the department head. His complaint, filed Tuesday in York County Superior Court, says the city abruptly forced him to retire in October 2017 without giving him any notice or opportunity to defend himself as required by law.

He also says he was accused of violating the city’s computer policy, but that allegation was false – and that a misdemeanor charge of criminal invasion of privacy was later dismissed.

“It shouldn’t go down like that,” Hirsch, 66, said in an interview Tuesday. “It shouldn’t happen like that. A person should actually be allowed to present their whole side of the story.”

City Administrator Bryan Kaenrath did not respond to a voicemail or an email to his executive assistant Tuesday.

Attorneys Shelby Leighton and David Webbert, who are representing Hirsch, said the city did not follow procedures that are legally required when firing a public employee, such as holding a hearing to present evidence of any wrongdoing.

“The Constitution guarantees to public employees like Joe the basic rights to due process, just cause and not having their reputations unfairly smeared,” Webbert said.

The complaint says the dispute dates back to early 2017, when another department employee told Hirsch that he had discovered that a seasonal worker had misused a city iPad to send and receive personal messages. At the time, the complaint says, policy prohibited employees from using city devices for personal reasons, and authorized individuals could monitor those devices. The employee who spoke to Hirsch was looking over the iPad after the seasonal worker turned it in and saw the personal messages, including negative comments about the department. He showed the screen to Hirsch, who assumed the seasonal employee’s immediate supervisor would handle the policy violation.

Months later, in September, the complaint says, the seasonal worker complained about an invasion of privacy because Hirsch and the other department employee had seen his texts. The following month then-city administrator Kevin Sutherland told Hirsch that he needed to retire or he would be fired. Hirsch said he was stunned.

The Saco Police Department also investigated the complaint and charged Hirsch and the other employee with criminal invasion of privacy, which is a Class D crime. Hirsch agreed to pay a $500 fine and complete 40 hours of community service, and the charge was dismissed. The complaint says he agreed to that resolution because of “mounting legal costs and the unexpected loss of his income because of the termination.” The York County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to an email about that case Tuesday.

Hirsch, who lives in Lyman, said he was not able to get a job in his field after the city publicized his termination and the criminal charge against him. He now works at a local school cafeteria and at Lowe’s. He said he misses his coworkers and the program participants he used to see on the job, and he feels a lack of closure because his long career ended so suddenly.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the city to reinstate Hirsch to his position and award him back pay and other financial compensation. It also asks the city to provide training to city employees on due process and other laws that govern the removal of municipal employees.


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