Hampton: Fire chief terminated for lack of 'good conduct'

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Attorneys deny Silver was terminated for sexual harassment

By Max Sullivan

Hampton Union, March 16, 2015

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Chief Chris Silver

HAMPTON — Town officials responded to a wrongful termination suit filed by former Hampton fire chief Chris Silver, saying he falsely characterized his firing as being for sexual harassment when it was in fact for lack of “good conduct and efficiency” as the department's leader.

"The town wishes to make clear that Silver was not terminated for sexual harassment, notwithstanding his attempts to characterize his termination as such in his complaint," an attorney for the town of Hampton stated in a March 11 response to Silver's civil suit filed in Rockingham Superior Court. "Silver was terminated because his actions impaired his ability to lead the department.'"

The town's response also said that Silver acknowledged to both Deputy Chief Jameson Ayotte and Town Manager Fred Welch that "he did not see a way he could go back to the department and lead" after what transpired between him and the alleged victim.

Silver's suit stated that his termination was because of a female employee's complaint of "a hostile work environment due to sexual harassment and retaliation."

It asked the town to clear the termination from his personnel record and pay for his lost wages, benefits and awards for damages from their breach of contract and defamation.

Silver's Dec. 3 termination letter, signed by Welch, stated that the female employee reported that Silver was “bullying” her and “unfairly” disciplining her boyfriend/fiancé, a Hampton firefighter, for a minor incident.

The alleged victim said Silver did this because she had not reciprocated his romantic feelings for her, according to the letter.

The termination letter said Silver “continued to express his feelings throughout the summer of 2013” despite the alleged victim having told Silver “she did not reciprocate these feelings” and was already in a relationship.

The woman said Silver gave her flowers, made comments about them being on a “first date” while at lunch with her, complimented her eyes and sent a text message saying she was part of his “long-term plan,” according to the letter.

The letter also alleged that Silver gave a Valentine’s Day card to the victim with the words “whatever path you choose” and “I hope you find the right one” the following February.

This, Welch stated in the letter, made her feel “very uncomfortable.”

The alleged “bullying” and unfair discipline of the victim's boyfriend began after the two became engaged in the summer of 2014, according to the termination letter.

Silver allegedly “raised an issue” about her filling out time sheets; something which she said had not been an issue in their six years working together.

But in the town's response last week, Hampton’s lawyer Matthew Cairns said the alleged victim "did not complain of sexual harassment. Rather, she complained of behavior that made her uncomfortable that occurred over a period of time." He said the behavior "was that which the fire chief should not have engaged in with a subordinate," and that the firing was for "just cause."

"Silver's conduct towards (the victim) was improper, not conduct expected of the fire chief," Cairns said in the response, "And directly impacted, related to and affected the administration of the office of fire chief, which directly affected the rights and interests of the public."

Cairns said in the response the issue with the time sheets "followed closely on the heels of (the alleged victim) verbally rebuffing Silver's amorous advancements and her engagement to a fellow firefighter," suggesting it was directly related.

"It was atypical for the fire chief to give the (timesheet) issue such attention and research but for some personal motive," Cairns wrote in the town's response.

The town also addressed Silver's lawyers' allegation that Silver had been led to believe she was “inviting a relationship” through her behavior toward him.

According to his lawyers, Silver alleged the woman sent him “frequent text messages stating she cared about him or was worried about him when he was out of the office,” and that she sent him a “sexually suggestive photograph from her vacation.”

Silver’s lawyers also said in the petition that the Valentine’s Day card referred to in the letter was “non-romantic.”

The town said it did not determine that the photograph was sexually suggestive," and that the town "denies that the hand-made valentine sheet was 'non-romantic.'" However, it said the town "does not know... whether those text messages were frequent, or whether (the victim) was flirtatious."

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