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February 06, 2008
Topsham man wins lawsuit against town
BRADFORD, Vermont (STPNS) -- CHELSEA?James ?Bucky? Spooner of Topsham was awarded $241,116 on Jan. 25 by a jury in Orange County Superior Court after a three-day civil trial. Spooner sued the town of Topsham for age discrimination when the selectboard, in 2001, chose to hire 33-year-old Bryan Hart as road foreman over Spooner, then 60 years old.
Spooner has 30 years of experience driving trucks and operating heavy equipment and had been plowing and sanding roads for the town for 15 years. The monetary award was for compensatory damages; Spooner was not awarded punitive damages or compensation for emotional distress.
Referring to the settlement, which represents the wages he would have earned in the six years since 2001, Spooner said he would rather have had the job.
?I like that kind of work, really,? he said. ?And going through these court deals? I?m not used to that kind of stuff.? Since 2001, Spooner has continued working construction, as he has ?all his life.? He hopes this settlement puts an end to his involvement with the court, although he ?more or less expect(s) them to appeal.?
Topsham?s attorney, Andrea Gallitano of Barre, declined to say whether they would be appealing the ruling. He had no comment, except to say ?we are disappointed in the verdict and reviewing our options.?
The case has attracted wide attention in press circles because of a subpoena served to Hank Buermeyer, a former correspondent for the Journal Opinion. Buermeyer was present at the selectboard?s meeting and witnessed a discussion in which two of the selectboard members expressed their preference for hiring a younger applicant because of his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967. He was consequently served a subpoena by Spooner?s attorney, Edwin Hobson.
Buermeyer filed to quash the subpoena, stating that any information he had was gathered as part of his job as a newsman. The Orange County Superior Court agreed, and quashed the subpoena, but the Vermont Superior Court overturned Judge Mary Teachout?s ruling and compelled Buermeyer to testify.
According to New England Press Association (NEPA) director Mike Donoghue, as quoted in the Oct. 2007 NEPA Bulletin, journalists have generally felt protected ?by the First Amendment and the Vermont court?s now-defunct precedent [U.S. v. Burke, 1983],? which adopted the standard that a reporter could only be compelled to testify if his testimony was shown to be relevant and material, and the only source for the information.
Judge Teachout cited the other witnesses at the Topsham meeting (including Spooner?s brothers, one of whom was the third selectboard member and another who was present and called him to report the age-based decision). Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber, however, stated that since the information was from Buermeyer himself and not from a confidential news source, it was not privileged information.
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