NORTH SMITHFIELD – A town staff member who served as Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski’s administrative assistant for more than a year has filed a suit in U.S. District Court alleging employment discrimination as a result of what she says was inappropriate conduct by the town leader.
Donna Rovedo filed a complaint seeking compensation for damages as a result of violation of the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Rovedo, a Worcester, Mass resident, began working for the town in June of 2020. Zwolenski became her supervisor when he was sworn into office in December of that same year, with Rovedo to work as his direct assistant.
“At the beginning of Paul Zwolenski’s tenure, Donna Rovedo enjoyed her work with him as her supervisor,” notes the suit, filed on Tuesday, Oct. 11. “As Paul Zwolenski became more comfortable in his position as the town administrator he started to become inappropriate in the office by the increased use of sexualized language and jokes.”
Rovedo states that the administrator would make inappropriate hand gestures while referring to certain people, and says he sometimes used sexualized language. But the suit mostly focuses on an incident that allegedly occurred when she gave him a birthday gift in December of 2021. According to Rovedo, Zwolenski asked if he could exchange the present for a sexual act.
Rovedo states that she immediately said the comment was inappropriate and asked Zwolenski not to mention it again, but that he brought it up several times in the days that followed, including once in front of Karen Bernardino, who was acting in a human resource capacity at the time.
“She took no action to correct the statements and actions of Paul Zwolenski,” notes the suit, filed by Providence-based Attorney David Cass on behalf of Rovedo.
Rovedo took another position at North Smithfield Town Hall last March, moving to the tax office where she has since served as deputy assessor. The suit states that she was forced to transfer due to an oppressive work environment caused by the administrator’s behavior, and that she suffered emotional distress.
The former assistant filed a charge with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights and received a Right to Sue prior to the filing.
Zwolenski said the matter is by being handled by attorneys with Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust.