HUDSON — The Columbia County Board of Elections, Columbia County and Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin face a possible legal challenge from James Dolan, who claims his former employer violated his First Amendment rights and forced him to resign under duress.
In a notice of claim sent to County Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons on Dec. 18, Martin, Democratic Deputy Commissioner Diane Boice-Yorck and the Columbia County Board of Elections allegedly created “a hostile work environment” while Dolan was employed as an election specialist at the Board of Elections at 401 State St.
Dolan was employed by the county Board of Elections from March 29, 2016, to Oct. 2, 2019.
Martin confirmed in an email to the Register-Star on Sept. 24 that Dolan had resigned. But Dolan, in his notice of claim, states that Martin and Yorck illegally agreed, and conspired and cooperated, to terminate his employment.
It’s unclear when Dolan and his attorney intend to file a formal complaint as part of a lawsuit against the parties named in the notice of claim.
“Mr. Dolan is considering whether he will file a complaint,” Dolan’s attorney, Lewis Oliver, of Albany, said Monday. “He does believe the election process should be bipartisan and efficient and should not be political.”
Dolan, a Democrat, was working alongside his unnamed Republican counterpart in the office, sharing information with Republican members of the Board of Elections as required by law, according to the claim. Martin and Yorck allegedly discouraged Dolan from being friendly and cooperative with Republican staff, promoted an atmosphere of “us against them,” or Republican commissioners and staff versus their Democratic counterparts, according to the claim.
“Commissioner Martin and Deputy Commissioner Boice-Yorck agreed and conspired and cooperated together to create discord and hostility between the Democratic employees of the Board and the Republican employees, and unlawfully directed claimant to engage in divisive behavior against Republican colleagues,” according to the notice of claim.
His bosses “minimized impossible working conditions, such as flea infestation in the office and other office misconduct, physically separated the desks of the Republican and Democratic Election Specialists immediately prior to claimant’s termination so it was more difficult for them to work together and undermined the mission of the Board of Elections to provide bipartisan service to the residents and voters of the county,” according to the claim.
A flea infestation at the Columbia County Municipal Building at 401 State St. forced the closure and emergency renovation of the county Board of Elections office, officials said in September. The problem had persisted since mid-July. Staff were sent home and the office has been closed early on “several occasions” after the fleas were seen “hopping around” and staff reported being bitten in the past five weeks, Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell said in September.
Murell could not immediately be reached for comment about the lawsuit Monday.
Dolan allegedly expressed disagreement and dissatisfaction with Martin’s alleged efforts to alienate the Republican staff, the claim states.
No action has been taken against any employees, and the Columbia County Democratic Committee has not verified any of Dolan’s claims. At this point, the county is still conducting its own investigation into Dolan’s allegations.
“We know what the allegations are, but we don’t know what the facts are at this point and we are waiting to see what actually happened,” Columbia County Democratic Committee Chairman Keith Kanaga said.
A monetary amount was not included in the notice of claim. As a result of his alleged resignation under duress, Dolan suffered lost wages and salary, medical and vacation benefits, loss of pension, damage to his political reputation and standing in the community; emotional distress, anxiety, degradation and public humiliation and other injuries and damages, which hare unknown at this time.
Fitzsimmons and Martin did not immediately return a call for comment Monday.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to email@example.com, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.