ALBANY -- Multiple current and former Gloversville Housing Authority employees are suing the authority and two others, claiming retaliation for whistleblowing.
The individuals allege that then-authority executive director Timothy Mattice suspended them without pay after a local newspaper published a few portions of a letter they signed concerning allegations they were assigned to work on an individual's personal home and perform work for an improvement corporation connected to Mattice.
An attorney for Mattice and another person named as defendants, however, on Friday called the allegations baseless.
According to the allegations in the new lawsuit filed earlier this month in federal court, the plaintiffs say they were also threatened with legal consequences for speaking out, given disciplinary warnings and one woman was allegedly fired from her part-time job.
The Housing Authority, Mattice and former tenant relations assistant Sheri McCloskey are named as defendants.
"The conduct of the GHA, [Mattice and McCloskey] is not only illegal, it is offensive and absurd," plaintiff attorney E. Robert Keach wrote in the suit. "The Defendants' efforts to retaliate against the Plaintiffs for exposing their illegal conduct represents a textbook example of a violation of the First Amendment."
Current authority executive director Heather Reynolds said Friday she could not comment on the new suit.
Attorney Kevin Luibrand, who represents both Mattice and McCloskey, said the allegations are false.
"The lawsuit is baseless. It has no merit, either under the law or the facts," Luibrand said. "Both are looking forward to clearing this cloud that these people have placed over their reputations for the past year."
The Housing Authority was in turmoil for much of last year. A shakeup in July resulted in the authority's executive director, Mattice, being placed on leave, followed by the resignation of two board members. All but one of the seven commissioners who were on the board in January 2017 had resigned and were replaced by August.
Mattice later reached a financial settlement with the authority. McCloskey filed her own notice of claim against the authority last fall, claiming she was suspended for exercising her own free speech rights about local politics. Luibrand also represents her in the notice. He declined to update the status of that claim Friday.
The authority also saw unionization of employees, a federal investigation of conduct and spending by the board's top officers and significant personnel changes.
The allegations in the new suit follow a notice of claim filed by the employees over a year ago.
They allege that employees were required on at least 40 occasions to do work on the home of then-board chairman Anthony Ferraro. They also allege that authority employees were used to do work for the Gloversville Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Corporation, which is unconnected to the authority.
The plaintiffs then sent a joint letter to board members, portions of which were published in the Gloversville Leader-Herald Jan. 3, 2017. The retaliation began immediately afterward, they allege.
They also allege that Mattice and McCloskey then harassed fired authority employee Robert Bonfrey after he was ordered reinstated because his firing was found to be illegal, the suit reads.
Mattice refused to allow Bonfrey to return to work, the suit reads, "and literally terrorized the man until he had a mental breakdown."
Named as plaintiffs are Tina Sena, Janet Luck, James Glover, Linda Lizio, Micholyn Lizio, Frank Hutchins, Joseph Battaglia, Erik Ellithorpe and Bonfrey.