Hermitage Club seeks summary judgment in wrongful termination case


WILMINGTON — The Hermitage Club is continuing its efforts to keep a wrongful termination case from going to trial.

Seeking summary judgment in a case brought against the Hermitage Club by a disgruntled former employee, the company says her dismissal had to do with reasons other than threatening to report the neglect of horses and making comments about how a co-worker's job could not be terminated if they were on military leave.

Effie Mayhew "was lawfully fired for insubordination," attorneys for the Hermitage Club wrote in a reply in support of its amended motion for summary judgment. The company runs a private ski resort, inns, restaurants, golf course and airport in the Deerfield Valley. Mayhew worked at the Hermitage Inn.

In December, the Hermitage Club sought summary judgment.

Mayhew "admits that her comments were based on her own personal moral beliefs rather than any professional standards and were also motivated by her desire for a promotion," the company's original motion for summary judgment stated in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont.

In new court documents, the company said Mayhew sent "a list of written demands" via e-mail, including a statement about how she would not continue working with the horses if her requests were not met.

According to the Hermitage Club, Mayhew wanted more time training with the horses. She complained about the grading of the pasture, having to do duties not associated with horse caretaking, not having any help with the gardening and needing more than three hours a day to work with the horses.

"And she (Mayhew) candidly stated that, 'So now, I'm being a little more cautious about what I will say 'yes' to... Because after all I am the only one watching out for my best interests,'" the Hermitage Club wrote.

When Mayhew was notified that horse care would be left to the responsibility of the Hermitage Club's grounds crew and a manager, the company said she went over the manager's head and took her concerns to company president Jim Barnes.

"Since Hermitage had a genuine, lawful, non-retaliatory basis for terminating plaintiff's employment for subordination, the burden shifts to plaintiff to demonstrate pretext," the company wrote.

Looking at Vermont's "public policy" exception regarding the freedom of an employer to fire at-will, the company said this applies when an employer's "course of conduct with regard to an at-will employee is cruel or shocking to the average person's conception of justice." Disagreements between Mayhew and supervisors were "nothing more than professional and moral disagreements, which are insufficient under Vermont law" to fall under the exception, the company added.

The Hermitage Club admitted that evidence at the beginning of Mayhew's employment suggests her supervisors acknowledged concerns about deficiencies around the care of horses. But the company said Mayhew was assigned to work with the horses due to those concerns.

"Nobody disagreed that the horses needed more attention," the Hermitage Club said. "In late July, early August, plaintiff (Mayhew) began advocating for herself to get a full-time position working with the horses and for the Hermitage to get a 'proper barn that meets their needs and fits into the Hermitage style,' although the barn that the horses were in was 'adequate.' Plaintiff (Mayhew) now claims that she told one of her supervisors... that 'the horses had previously been in a state of neglect and that without a proper stable, pasture and care, the Humane Society might take a negative view of their treatment.'"

The company said Mayhew only contacted the Windham County Humane Society nine months after being fired and Mayhew disagreed with the organization about how horses could continue to graze in the wooded pasture without it endangering their safety.

Mayhew filed a lawsuit in 2007 against local website iBrattleboro for libel based on a comment submitted by David Dunn, the former executive director of Rescue Inc., an emergency medical services organization where Mayhew works as a volunteer. Dunn alleged in his post that Mayhew was conducting an "affair" with a "married member of the Rescue Inc. board of trustees" indicating that this behavior was happening during "on call" hours at the agency.

iBrattleboro founders, Chris Grotke and Lise LePage, were eventually dismissed from the lawsuit, as was Dunn.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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