Harbormaster amends lawsuit

Gloucester Harbormaster Thomas "TJ" Ciarametaro

Gloucester Harbormaster T.J. Ciarametaro's attorneys have amended his lawsuit against Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, members of her administration and the city, broadening the counts under which Ciarametaro seeks damages and providing more detail on some of his more explosive charges of a hostile workplace.

The initial complaint, filed Feb. 9 in Essex Superior Court in Lawrence, charged that Romeo Theken and members of her administration harassed Ciarametaro and created a hostile work environment as retaliation for the harbormaster serving as a plaintiffs' expert witness in a lawsuit involving the 2015 sinking of the fishing vessel Orin C.

Ciarametaro has reiterated the charges in a hostile work environment claim he has filed with the city.

His claim is one of two publicly acknowledged hostile work environment complaints filed against Romeo Theken. In February, city Community Development Director Jill Cahill filed a claim with similar charges.

Cahill, in her claim, said Romeo Theken routinely verbally abuses her and other city staff, often in front of others.

The initial complaint of the Ciarametaro lawsuit contained four counts — hostile work environment, aiding and abetting a hostile work environment, interfering with protected rights, and retaliation — as the basis for seeking unspecified financial and punitive damages from Romeo Theken, city General Counsel Charles "Chip" Payson, Human Resources Director Holly Dougwillo, former Chief Administrative Officer James Destino and the city.

The amended complaint, filed Thursday in the same venue by Ciarametaro's attorney, Liam T. O'Connell of Gloucester, contains only three counts — intentional infliction of emotional distress, violations of Ciarametaro's First Amendment rights and violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.

Amended counts

On Friday, O'Connell said the counts from the initial complaint dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination were removed from the amended complaint because legal procedure mandates they first must be reviewed by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

"Procedurally, they have to go to MCAD first for at least 90 days," O'Connell said. "Those initial accounts all must be dealt with by MCAD."

But, O'Connell said, he fully expects to reintroduce them into the lawsuit unless they are resolved before MCAD.  

The first count in the amended complaint alleges Romeo Theken "intended to inflict emotional distress" on Ciarametaro with conduct described as "extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency."

The mayor's actions, the count alleges, at least partially caused Ciarametaro's distress that included "grief, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression."

The second count details alleged First Amendment violations by defendants against Ciarametaro.

"Defendants engaged in adverse conduct against Mr. Ciarametaro, in retaliation of his protected speech, by threatening his job, diminished his responsibility by keeping him out of decisions affecting his department, harassing and intimidating him, disparaging and defaming, not processing an overdue pay increase, attempted to interfere with his ability to increase his income, and prevented his (hostile work environment) complaint from being processed and investigated pursuant to city policy," the second count alleges. "As a result of the defendants' actions, Mr. Ciarametaro has suffered damages by loss of income, both in his harbormaster position and consulting work, and damages to his reputation."

The third count alleges violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act by the defendants.

It states that Ciarametaro's participation in the Orin C lawsuit — as well as his public proclamation that Romeo Theken, Payson and Destino violated the law by trying to intimidate a witness in a federal case — "were exercises of his rights secured under the U.S. Constitution, federal laws and the laws of the Commonwealth."

Orin C lawsuit

On Dec. 3, 2015, the slime eel boat Orin C became disabled at sea and radioed for assistance. Good Samaritan Capt. Phil Powell, at the helm of the F/V Foxy Lady, steamed 16 miles and was the first vessel to reach the Orin C.

Powell and his crew initiated a tow that grew more problematic — the towline snapped four times — as the seas rose and the weather roughened. Ultimately, the Coast Guard arrived and assumed control of the tow.

“It is apparent to me that the towing of the F/V Orin C with the improper towline and equipment did irreversible damage to the wooden-hulled F/V Orin C,” Ciarametaro wrote in his report for attorney Joseph Orlando Jr., who was seeking financial damages for the two surviving crew members and the estate of Orin C Capt. David "Heavy D" Sutherland, who drowned in the final rescue attempt. “I believe that the damage sustained by the Orin C from the improper towline was a substantial contributor to the eventual sinking.”

The parties ultimately settled in June 2020 after U.S. District Court Judge Patti B. Saris, over the objection of Orlando, ordered the parties to adhere to a previous settlement agreement and dismissed the case before it went to trial.

Orlando appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. On Sept. 25, 2020, the appeals court ordered the "that the appeal be voluntarily dismissed."

But the bad blood surrounding Ciarametaro's role in the lawsuit lingered — particularly for Romeo Theken, a longtime fishing advocate. It finally erupted into the open with Ciarametaro's hostile workplace claim and lawsuit.

Mayor's alleged language

Gone from the amended complaint are charges that Romeo Theken, in front of other city officials, "has defamed numerous citizens, city employees and other elected city officials."

Absent also are several — but not all — references contained in the initial complaint alleging Romeo Theken's use of sexually explicit language, as well as the contention that Ciarametaro "was repeatedly subjected to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature."

O'Connell, however, said those charges are included in the MCAD complaint.

The amended complaint carries more details of explosive allegations, many of them dealing with the mayor's choice of language.

It references an iPhone message left by Romeo Theken where the mayor is alleged to have screamed at Ciarametaro and called him disparaging names, including "f***ing fraud," "liar," and "***hole."

The amended complaint alleges the mayor, in the iPhone message, threatened Ciarametaro's position as harbormaster if he continued to serve as an expert witness in the Orin C lawsuit.

"Who the f*** do you think you are?" it alleges Romeo Theken stated in the message.

The amended complaint also alleges Romeo Theken "openly disparaged and harassed" a potential new hire on the harbormaster staff "with crude and wildly inappropriate and sexually explicit comments" in front of other harbormaster staff.

"Specifically, she stated her 'official' reasoning for refusing to hire this individual was because 'everyone will think she only got the job because she was f***king everyone in the department'," the amended complaint stated.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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