Police officer sues town

  • Amherst Police Lt. David Knightly AMHERST POLICE DEPARTMENT

  • Name hereGreg Bernier ITB Photography Name hereGreg Bernier ITB Photography


Staff Writer
Thursday, January 03, 2019

AMHERST — A 30-year-member of the Amherst Police Department is alleging employment discrimination and seeking unspecified monetary damages in a civil lawsuit filed against the town and the department in Hampshire Superior Court.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Police Lt. David R. Knightly of Hadley, who joined the force in 1988, outlines a pattern of adverse actions and retaliations alleged to have been taken by Police Chief Scott Livingstone and Police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen, which led to a hostile work environment that compromised Knightly’s health by causing emotional distress and resulted in lost wages after he was no longer considered eligible for the educational wage incentive through the state’s Quinn Bill.

The complaint alleges Knightly, 51, faced discrimination based on age, on handicap or perceived handicap, and on gender, as well as retaliation.

A jury trial, which has not yet been scheduled, is being sought by attorney Tani Sapirstein of Sapirstein & Sapirstein of Springfield, who filed the lawsuit in August. Sapirstein said Monday that it could take a year to 18 months before a trial is held.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman wrote in an email, “The town has no comment at this time.”

Reached by phone, Livingstone declined to comment. Gundersen could not be reached for comment.

David C. Jenkins, the town attorney with KP Law, P.C. of Boston, disputes many of the allegations, according to court documents.

The timeline set out in the complaint notes that the issues began in April 2017 with a disagreement over a new recruit between Gundersen and Knightly. Gundersen is leaving the department Friday to be sworn in as the new South Hadley police chief, and Knightly is the supervisor of the department’s field training program for new officers.

“Following the disagreement, Capt. Gundersen began to take adverse actions against Mr. Knightly,” the lawsuit states.

These actions included requiring that Knightly explain any use of sick time — contacting her in advance if he needed to use sick time — and ending his use of flex time. According to the lawsuit, Gundersen told Knightly she was taking these steps because, “I’m pissed at you.”

On Sept. 21, 2017, Gundersen told Knightly that she overheard subordinates complaining about his work performance, and she allegedly referred to him as “Old Salt” and called him the “last of the old guys” and “old timer.”

Five days later, on Sept. 26, Knightly met with Human Resources Director Deborah Radway to inform her about what was happening, and then on Sept. 28 he met with Livingstone, at which time he informed the police chief that he was seeing a therapist due to the stress from the job.

“Dave, when did you turn into such a p---y,” Livingstone is alleged to have said, according to the lawsuit.

Just a few days earlier, on Sept. 22, Knightly had been assured by Livingstone that his earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice through the University Without Walls program at the University of Massachusetts would entitle him to a higher salary educational incentive. Late Town Manager John Musante in 2015 had approved Knightly’s enrolling in the criminal justice curriculum.

But on March 21, 2018 Livingstone supposedly denied this educational incentive pay, according to the lawsuit.

Livingstone allegedly began the retaliation against Knightly by informing him that he kept a separate personnel file on him apart from the official one kept at Town Hall.

“Livingstone began a series of interactions with Mr. Knightly’s subordinates and coworkers to undermine Mr. Knightly and create a hostile work environment,” the lawsuit states. The incidents cited in the lawsuit include not inviting Knightly to a Christmas gathering and, at the same event, refusing to toast an officer who had joined Knightly on a hunting trip to his cabin in Maine.

The town attorney response denies many of these allegations, pointing out that Knightly was in a degree program that did not qualify for the Quinn Bill stipend pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, and that Livingstone never approved the possible 10 percent pay bump.

But the response did acknowledge that Gundersen had overheard subordinates complaining about Knightly’s work performance; it also acknowledged that Knightly met with Radway as well as Livingstone regarding personnel matters.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.