Parks Department Employee Fired

Claims harassment, bullying after complaints about barrels; vows legal action

The East Hampton Town employee who blew the whistle in March on the Parks Department’s reuse of industrial metal barrels as trash cans, and the disposal of the barrels’ chemical residue on the ground and in storm drains, has been fired.

Jay Michael Grisham, a one-year probationary employee who had said he suffered negative health effects from exposure to the chemicals, was terminated by the East Hampton Town Board at a meeting last Thursday.

Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who had called for an immediate stop to the Parks Department practice on learning of it and ordered environmental testing — the results of which are still awaited —said this week that Mr. Grisham’s “termination has nothing whatsoever to do with that incident.” He declined to comment further. “It’s very difficult, because this is the kind of thing that can end up in litigation,” he said.

By phone on Monday Mr. Grisham said he had been “harassed and bullied, and put in a position that they want me to quit, because of the drums.” He also said he intends to seek legal recourse. “I’m fully covered by the whistleblower law.”

Mr. Grisham said that after informing The Star that he and other Parks Department employees had been ordered to empty foam insulation chemicals onto the ground in order to paint the barrels so that they could be set out for trash, “My life has changed for the worse.”

He reported continued conflicts with the Parks Department head, Tony Littman, as well as with his supervisor, Richard Webb, and claimed to have been deliberately assigned to difficult jobs, including some, such as digging, for which he is physically unsuited. A prior back injury was aggravated doing such work in late April, he said, and, after filing a report, he visited a doctor and returned with a note to the effect that he should be assigned only light duty. Nonetheless, he said, he was sent to pick up markers from the Town Hall lawn, which aggravated his back and caused him to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital for an examination. Mr. Littman did not respond this week to a request for comment.

Mr. Grisham said that since March he had had several meetings regarding workplace problems with Kathleen Rood, the town’s human resources director, along with Mr. Littman and Miles Maier, who heads the town’s Civil Service Employees Association. Mr. Grisham said he had made a police report following what he perceived as verbal threats from his co-workers, and that the police were called to Town Hall to speak with him after comments he made himself that were perceived to be threatening.  He denies making threatening statements, however.

“I did not raise my hand or raise my voice,” he said. He acknowledged, though, telling Michael Sendlenski, the town attorney, and Ms. Rood, that he would do “whatever it takes” to resolve his situation, and “to put an end to the maltreatment,” he said this week.

“I was born and raised in this town. That little tiny Parks Department is costing people their lives, health, careers,” Mr. Grisham said. He believes his phone has been tapped, and that his social media accounts have been monitored. “I have done nothing insubordinate. I was wrongfully fired.”

According to Mr. Maier, the town has a lot of leeway and authority over retaining or firing probationary employees based on timeliness and attendance, ability to perform work satisfactorily, and insubordination. While Mr. Maier said he had tried his best to direct Mr. Grisham “in the right way so he could get the remedy he was seeking,” town officials were not under obligation to follow the same procedures used in trying to resolve issues with employees who are not probationary. In those cases, he said, an employee’s supervisor may first issue a “corrective counseling memo” and a verbal warning, before outlining formal disciplinary actions, if necessary.

Nevertheless, Mr. Maier said he had contacted the regional branch of the union about Mr. Grisham. “There could be a possibility we could do something for him.” He could not comment, he said, about whether Mr. Grisham’s actions in bringing the chemical barrel situation to light were a factor. As to his firing, “The town hasn’t given me an official reason,” Mr. Maier said.