DUMMERSTON >> An Orange County judge dismissed four of five claims filed against a local nonprofit by a man who served as its director for more than 20 years.
According to documents filed in Orange County Superior Court, David C. Tansey sued Landmark Trust USA for wrongful termination, breach of an employment contract and infliction of emotional distress.
Tansey now lives in Newbury, but according to the court document, Tansey was Landmark's founding president and chief executive officer and continued in those positions until November 2012.
Landmark Trust was founded in 1991 and owns and maintains Naulakha, the home Rudyard Kipling built in 1893. It is now open for the public to rent at a rate of $350 to $450 per night. In addition, tours are conducted throughout the year for students between fourth and sixth grade. Landmark also operates and rents out other historic buildings throughout southern Vermont, including the Scott Farm on Kipling Road. According to its mission statement, Landmark engages in "restoring and preserving structures and landscapes on sites of historic or literary interest, architectural merit or amenity value; and finding suitable uses for them."
"Plaintiff was responsible for all aspects of administration and operations of defendant's properties, for fund-raising and public relations to support defendant's programs, including the establishment and operation of visitor and volunteer programs," stated Tansey's lawsuit. According to the suit, Tansey "authored the National Historical Landmark nomination for Rudyard Kipling's Naulakha Estate; it resulted in the structure becoming Vermont's eleventh National Historic Landmark; plaintiff also arranged for the Scott Farm to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places." During Tansey's tenure, stated the document, "Scott Farm achieved major progress, advancing from a seriously declining farm and orchard into one nationally recognized for its quality of historic preservation, progressive energy policies and many varieties of heirloom apples."
In the lawsuit, Tansey claimed three board members of Landmark "began harassing plaintiff and undermining his authority." The board members accused Tansey of "being non-responsive, belligerent and insubordinate to the board, despite the fact that they were not, individually, plaintiff's supervisor — under the bylaws — the board as a whole was his supervisor. Plaintiff reported to the board; he disobeyed no board-adopted directives."
Tansey contended two of the three board members accused him of lying about his job, accusations that were based on false reports from Scott Farm's orchardist, who is alleged to have told the board that Tansey was creating "an emotional minefield" and that his management style was "unpredictable" and "intimidating." The orchardist also accused plaintiff of "overstepping his authority." Tansey warned the orchardist about his conduct "urging him to express credit to defendant and Scott Farm — not solely to himself — and to stop undermining defendant's reputation."
All of this was occurring at a time in 2012 when "extreme financial conditions during the period created a modicum of tension."
"David Tansey built Landmark Trust USA with the help of a British preservation group," said Norman Watts, Tansey's attorney. "He rekindled Scott Farm into a successful producer of heirloom apples and restored its fine historical buildings for the public. Board members demonstrated their arrogance, ingratitude and disregard by ignoring his contributions and accorded him cruel treatment - not just in firing him but in humiliating him and intentionally inflicted inflicting emotional distress upon him. Unfortunately, since Mr. Tansey's departure, the organization has dindled, its rentals plummeted. We will try the remaining claim before a jury be successful."
Upon review of Tansey's evidence, and documents submitted by Landmark Trust, the judge dismissed all the claims except for the claim related to intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In the remaining count, Tansey alleges the actions of the three board members "were deliberately directed at plaintiff to inflict emotional distress upon him. In particular ... (they) ... forced Plaintiff into a non-noticed meeting in the kitchen of his residence ... in order to harass and abuse him without a witness ..."
Tristan Toleno, the chairman of the board of Landmark Trust, said the board feels the judge's decision was a significant legal victory for the organization. "The judge has validated the basic structure of our decision," he said. As far as the remaining count is concerned, said Toleno, "We think we will prevail in a court of law."
According to the court's decision, issued on Nov. 6, the board had previously asked Tansey to step down, in 2001, for "a long series of outbursts toward vendors and workers, staff, colleagues, neighbors, and especially toward (the Trust) ..." After Tansey refused to step down, three board members resigned their positions.
In 2010, two employees of Scott Farm submitted hostile work environment complaints with the board and two years later, a local business owner also submitted a complaint to the board. The meeting at Tansey's home in 2012 with him and the three board members was in response to the Scott Farm employee complaints. Tansey accused the three board members of berating him for two hours during the meeting.
Tansey and the board members eventually reached a "statement of commitment to work together in a professional manner," but on Nov. 20, 2012, the board terminated Tansey's employment with Landmark Trust.
The judge found that because Tansey was an officer and not legally an employee of Landmark Trust, his claims of wrongful termination did not stand the test. The judge also found that Landmark Trust had "offered sufficient evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for termination ... (including) a significant record of (Tansey's) misconduct, dating back eleven years ..."
Landmark Trust offered documentation to back up its claim that Tansey had been counseled on a number of occasions for his behavior. While Tansey's evidence supported his claim that Landmark's termination was baseless, noted the judge, Tansey did not produce evidence that showed Landmark "did not honestly believe their stated reason for termination. ..."
Toleno told the Reformer that Landmark Trust is looking forward to its day in court to resolve the remaining claim. Since Tansey's dismissal, he said, "The organization is thriving."