Former assistant files discrimination lawsuit against N.S. town administrator

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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.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. What’s up with the SPECIAL MEETING NORTH SMITHFIELD TOWN COUNCIL on NOVEMBER 14, 2022

    III. EXECUTIVE SESSION (closed)
    A. Discussion by Council, Vote, or Other Action on RIGL 42-46-5(A)(2) Sessions Pertaining to Collective Bargaining or Litigation or Work Sessions Pertaining to Collective Bargaining or Litigation:
    1. Donna Rovedo vs. Town of North Smithfield et al., C.A. No: 22-cv-00367
    IV. OPEN SESSION
    A. Discussion by Council, Vote, or Other Action on Donna Rovedo vs. Town of North Smithfield et al., C.A. No: 22-cv-00367
    V. ADJOURN

    ???????????

  2. The longer they keep the TA in that building, the longer this female employee has to watch her every area around her inside the building, including the parking lot where he also harassed her from his car, the MORE DAMAGES can be awarded to the alleged victim. Protect her. Protect the town. Protect the other female employees. You owe that to ensure quality of life. Let him work from home.
    Where is the TC on ensuring a safe environment? What the heck is wrong with you? Common sense should prevail. Every business in the world removes the alleged predator but N.S. does not? Give a good reason, and please do not use innocent until proven guilty…..

  3. The “yes for ns yes for change group” is not looking so good in the last year. Maybe it is time for a change from old school politics and behavior.

  4. Town Council Vice President, Kim Alves HAS reached out to me SEVERAL times since she became aware of my discrimination case.

  5. I disagree with your interpretation Tony Guertin. I think you’re wrong and the Town Council can and should have taken but chose not to. In addition to the Charter articles cited below you should google the procedures to be followed once a claim of harassment has been made. You worked to get these individuals elected so I can see why you defend every wrong doing they commit.

    Sec. 4. Oath of office.
    Every officer of the town shall, before entering upon the duties of his office, take and subscribe
    to the following oath or affirmation, to be filed and kept in the office of the town clerk:
    “ You _________ (naming the person) __________do solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will
    be true and faithful unto this State and support the laws and Constitution of the United States;
    and that you will well and truly execute the office (naming the office) for the term for which you
    have been elected (or appointed), or until another be engaged in your place, or until you be
    legally discharged therefrom; so help you God (or this affirmation you make and give upon peril
    of the penalty of perjury).”

    Powers of the Town council outlined in the Town Charter:
    (3) To enact, amend or repeal rules, ordinances and resolutions for the government of the
    town which have to do with the preservation of the public peace, health, safety, welfare
    and comfort of the inhabitants and the protection of persons and property, and other
    municipal functions. The town council may provide reasonable penalties in accordance
    with the law for the violation of any ordinances;

    (5) To inquire into the conduct of any office or officer, department or agency of the town;

    (21)To issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify and produce records as prescribed by
    law;
    (22)To appoint committees of the council which may investigate and report on any matter
    referred to it and make a recommendation thereon but no committee shall have any
    executive or legislative powers and all matters shall be determined by the council as a
    whole;

    (5) Emergency measures: The power to declare an emergency affecting the public peace,
    health, safety, comfort and welfare of the inhabitants of the town and for the protection of
    persons and property is placed in the town administrator by this charter but the town council may
    by ordinance ratify the action of the administrator and/or direct him to take additional or
    different action in dealing with the emergency and may by resolution declare the emergency
    closed. Enactments by the town council dealing with an emergency or emergencies may be
    adopted on the day of introduction without a previous filing with the town clerk, shall contain a
    declaration of the existence of the emergency which declaration shall be conclusive as to the
    existence of such emergency, and shall take effect upon their passage.

    • I put in an APRA back in April for the “Letter of Engagement” (the term the state uses for “oath of office”) and got back none… I asked specifically for the Administrator’s and was told they have none on file.

    • Mr. Clifford once again you prove that your interpretation is to be considered as gospel. Nowhere in the passages you cite does it specifically detail suspending – or even disciplining – the Town Administrator. Unlike Woonsocket’s Charter, which enabled the City Council to remove the sitting Mayor, NS’s Charter is not clear-cut – and as you well know, misinterpretation can often lead to litigation. Thank goodness our town leadership has the sound judgement to enable the court system and legal experts to do their jobs.

      It appears all of NS should feel fortunate you decided to drop out of the Town Council race. Should you have succeeded in the election, your snap judgements without definitive legal clarification could have been disastrous for taxpayers.

      • Excerpts from the Town Charter

        Sec. 8. Powers.
        The town council shall be the policy-determining body of the town. All powers of the town excepting such as may belong to the town meeting or to other agencies as provided in the charter and by law shall be vested in the town council. Without limitation of the foregoing grant or of other powers given to it by this charter, the town council shall have the power:

        (1) To determine its own rules and order of business and keep a journal of its proceedings which shall be open to public inspection in the office of the town clerk;

        (3) To enact, amend or repeal rules, ordinances and resolutions for the government of the town which have to do with the preservation of the public peace, health, safety, welfare and comfort of the inhabitants and the protection of persons and property, and other municipal functions. The town council may provide reasonable penalties in accordance with the law for the violation of any ordinances;

        (5) To inquire into the conduct of any office or officer, department or agency of the town;

        Sec. 8. Powers.
        The town council shall be the policy-determining body of the town. All powers of the town
        excepting such as may belong to the town meeting or to other agencies as provided in the charter
        and by law shall be vested in the town council. Without limitation of the foregoing grant or of
        other powers given to it by this charter, the town council shall have the power:
        (1) To determine its own rules and order of business and keep a journal of its proceedings
        which shall be open to public inspection in the office of the town clerk;
        (2) To judge the eligibility of its own members subject to review by the courts on questions of
        fact and law;
        (3) To enact, amend or repeal rules, ordinances and resolutions for the government of the
        town which have to do with the preservation of the public peace, health, safety, welfare
        and comfort of the inhabitants and the protection of persons and property, and other
        municipal functions. The town council may provide reasonable penalties in accordance
        with the law for the violation of any ordinances;
        (4) To create, change and abolish departments, offices and agencies other than those
        established by this charter and distribute the work among them, and assign additional
        functions or duties to departments, offices and agencies established by or under this
        charter, but may not discontinue or assign to any other department, office or agency, any
        function or duty assigned by this charter to a particular department, office or agency;
        (5) To inquire into the conduct of any office or officer, department or agency of the town;

        Protections of persons rings loudly here…

  6. How is Town Hall not a hostile work environment for the purported victim? How has the Administrator not been placed on leave as this is investigated?
    It is not comforting to know an alleged sexual predator is running the Town and….and….and a Town Hall replete with female employees!

  7. Mary, if anyone on the council was also aware and sat on it, they also should resign. Everything coming out of town hall recently has not been a reflection on how we should be conducting business. It’s time for a change!

  8. Just another black eye for the town, and if the allegations prove true, he must be forced to resign. With this TA and council in place the hits will just keep coming. It’s time for a change people of North Smithfield.

    • I agree. As I stated recently, the circus has to move on. The TC should be able to remove him at will. Apparently, they have been sitting on this for months. In any other business situation he would either have to be placed on leave, allowed to resign or be terminated. It is time that North Smithfield should consider hiring a professional, town manager and not an individual with no educational training in community management.

      • Mary, if anyone on the council was also aware and sat on it, they also should resign. Everything coming out of town hall recently has not been a reflection on how we should be conducting business. It’s time for a change!

        • Pat, again. agree 100%. Get your sample ballot ready, there is no room for error. And a special shout out to Sandy at NRI Now for not sitting on this.

      • It’s quite interesting that there are residents who believe in government by acclamation. But in NS, we have a Town Charter which serves as the official guiding document of all things governmental, and specifically enumerates the powers of our elected officials.

        By my reading and interpretation of the Charter, the Town Council has no authority to “remove him at will”, or to even suspend the Town Administrator. They may well have been aware of the lawsuit, but are bound by the rules of due process as outlined in the 5th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution.

        “Hiring a professional town manager” was a ballot question brought to NS voters in 2018. The initiative was defeated.

        Please let me know if my interpretations are mistaken, as I am always open to further education.

  9. Comforting to know H.R. is on top of it.
    Been going on for how long? Still able to intimidate employees? Hope she takes him to the cleaners.

    • He’s covered by a bond. If he has violated the terms of the bond and can no longer be bonded, he can’t be an elected official.

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