Plaintiff: Vincent F. Ragosta, Jr., Esq.; D. Peter DeSimone,
Defendant: Gregory Piccirilli, Esq.; Jeffrey W. Kasle, Esq.
Town of North Providence (Town), has appealed the Decision of
the Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board (Board), finding
that the Town violated G.L. 1956 § 28-7-13(10) by
retaliating against Elizabeth Iafrate (Iafrate) for her
history of filing grievances. Jurisdiction is pursuant to
G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15.
addressing the incident which is the subject matter of this
appeal, it is helpful to set forth Iafrate's employment
history with the Town.
began her career with the Town in 1988, as a Clerk 1 in the
Board of Canvassers. (Hr'g Tr. 15:8-11, Apr. 25, 2017.)
She was a member of Rhode Island Laborers District Council,
Local 1033 (Union), the union for employees of the Town.
(Decision Findings of Fact, at 3.) The relationship between
the Town and the Union was governed by a collective
bargaining agreement (CBA), which provided the procedure,
including arbitration, for grievances which arise from
"the application, meaning or interpretation of the
express provisions of this agreement." (CBA Joint Ex. 1,
transferred into the position of senior clerk to the Town
Clerk's office "in the mid-90s," and was later
promoted to deputy town clerk. Id. at 15:16-19. In
2007, Iafrate transferred to the planning and zoning
department, where she served as senior clerk and chief zoning
clerk. Id. at 16:3-7.
10, 2013, Iafrate received a memorandum from Mayor Charles
Lombardi (Lombardi or Mayor) informing her that she was being
transferred to the Finance Department. (Hr'g Tr.
16:12-15, Apr. 25, 2017). Iafrate filed a grievance through
the Union regarding this transfer. Id. at
16:19-17:1. Before the grievance could be arbitrated,
Iafrate's position in the finance department was
eliminated. Id. at 17:1-2. Iafrate again filed a
grievance through the union protesting the elimination of her
position, and sought to exercise "bumping rights."
Id. at 17:19-18:1-6. The grievances were
consolidated and arbitrated together. Id. at
18:13-15. The arbitrator decided against allowing Iafrate to
exercise her bumping rights, and Iafrate was returned to the
position of Clerk 3 in the zoning and finance department.
Id. at 18:16-21. Iafrate also filed a grievance
challenging the denial of her application for a housing
inspector position, which was summarily arbitrated and
denied. (Hr'g Tr. 40:16-24, Apr. 25, 2017; Joint Ex. 9.)
2014, Iafrate took an extended period of sick leave from her
position in the zoning and finance department. (Hr'g Tr.
18:20-24, Apr. 25, 2017.) Iafrate was scheduled to return to
work on June 2; however, on May 29, 2014, Iafrate was
informed that she would be transferred to the tax
assessor's office and to report to that office on her
return to work. Id. at 19:3-10. Iafrate assumed the
role of Clerk 3 in the tax assessor's office, a position
which she continues to occupy today. Id. at 19:8-12.
2016, Iafrate filed two grievances regarding the fact that
she believed she was doing the work of a deputy tax assessor.
(Hr'g Tr. 20:8-21, Apr. 25, 2017; see Joint Exs.
11, 12.) One of the grievances was scheduled to be arbitrated
on January 12, 2017. Id. at 21:1-9; Joint Ex. 6.
November 2, 2016, Thomas Kane (Kane) sent an email to all the
employees in the tax assessor's office, including
Iafrate, regarding a new policy regarding transfers of
trusts. (Hr'g Tr. 265:10-15, June 8, 2017.) Kane then
came out into the office to discuss the policy. Id.
Iafrate vocally disagreed with the policy, telling Kane that
it contradicted a state statute. Id. at
265:15-266:14. According to Iafrate, later that afternoon,
Kane called her into his office and told her she was "a
little strong with him," and that she should not have
disagreed with him in front of the other staff. Id.
at 266:14-24. Kane placed an employee warning regarding the
incident in Iafrate's disciplinary file. Id. at
267:1-10; see Town's Ex. 2. According to
Iafrate, she did not learn that Kane had written an employee
warning regarding the incident until her attorney accessed
her disciplinary records in the instant proceedings before
the Board. Id.
afternoon of December 9, 2017, Iafrate received a call from a
Providence resident, Allyn Reynolds. (Hr'g Tr. 88:17-24,
Apr. 25, 2017.) Kane overheard the call from his office,
which was across from Iafrate's workspace. Id.
at 88:17-21. Kane walked over to Iafrate and asked her to
transfer the call to him because "her tone was elevated,
she sounded frustrated," the call "wasn't
progressing to a solution" and "really need[ed] to
be handled differently." Id. at 88:21-22;
89:17-22. It is undisputed that Kane did not talk to Iafrate
about her conduct on the call with Reynolds on December 9,
2016, or at any time prior to January 11, 2017. (Hr'g Tr.
27:14-24, Apr. 25, 2017.)
spoke with Reynolds and was able to resolve her
issue. While speaking with Kane, Reynolds
expressed a desire to write a letter about her experience on
the call with Iafrate. (Hr'g Tr. 95:2-6, Apr. 25, 2017.)
At some time during the week following the call, Kane spoke
with Mayor Charles Lombardi and Richard Fossa,  the Mayor's
Chief of Staff, about the December 9, 2016 call to alert him
"about the potential issue" and that Reynolds would
be writing a letter (Hr'g Tr. 98:19-24, April 25, 2017;
Hr'g Tr. 141-143, May 30, 2017).
drafted her letter on December 12, 2016. (Respondent's
Ex. 1.) Reynolds had planned to mail the letter, but was
unable to do so because of difficulties with a chronic back
condition. (Hr'g Tr. 103:6-19, Apr. 25, 2017.) Kane
offered to pick up the letter from her, and did so on
December 15, 2016, delivering it to the Mayor the same day.
Id. Upon reading the letter, the Mayor was
"very concerned" by the contents of the letter, and
wanted to know the details, expressing to Kane that there
would be some type of discipline. (Hr'g Tr. 124:20-24;
127:17-128:3, May 30, 2017.)
Mayor wrote a response to Reynolds. (Hr'g Tr. 149:3-10,
May 30, 2017.) See also Hr'g Tr. 255:20-22, June
8, 2017. They ultimately spoke on the phone and the Mayor
apologized to Reynolds for how she was treated. Id.
at 256:1-257:8. He asked if she would "come forth and
take responsibility" for her letter and testify in
hearings, and Reynolds agreed to do so. Id. at
week before Christmas, Fossa called Ronald Coia,
business manager for the Union, and described Iafrate's
conduct on the December 9, 2017 call with Reynolds and
Reynolds' subsequent letter. Fossa told Coia that they
were considering suspension or termination, but that any
disciplinary action would be deferred until after the
holidays. Apparently, Coia agreed with this approach.
(Hr'g Tr. 183:17-23, May 30, 2017; 208:13-15, May 30,
2017.) It is undisputed that neither Kane nor Fossa spoke
with Iafrate regarding her conduct on the call with Reynolds
until January 11. (Hr'g Tr. 66:22-67:2, Apr. 25, 2017.)
January 11, 2017, Iafrate returned from a break at 3:30 P.M.
and was called into Kane's office with Fossa who handed
her a letter informing her that she had a
"pre-suspension hearing" scheduled for the next day
at 10 A.M. because of an incident with a "customer"
in December. Id. at 23-25. According to Iafrate, she
was unaware what customer or which phone call to which Fossa
was referring. Id. at 25:19-26:1.
next morning, Mayor Lombardi, Fossa, Lynda Labbadia (a
payroll employee), and Iafrate attended the pre-suspension
hearing. Coia represented Iafrate and Vincent Ragosta
represented the Town. Id. at 28:1-7. After the
completion of the pre-suspension hearing around noon, the
group participated in the previously scheduled arbitration
hearing of Iafrate's pending grievance. Id. at
3:30 P.M., Fossa came to Iafrate's office and handed her
notice that she would be suspended for five days without pay,
beginning the following day. See Joint Ex. 3;
Hr'g Tr. 29:1-7, Apr. 25, 2017. While delivering the
notice, Fossa told Iafrate "we could have dropped this,
you know, if you got rid of the [deputy tax assessor
grievance] . . . if that went [away] and the other grievance
went away, you would have came [sic] to work tomorrow."
Id. at 52:1-5.
following day, Iafrate grieved the suspension through the
Union. (Joint Ex. 9; Hr'g Tr. 52:14-21, Apr. 25, 2017.)
On January 23, 2017, Iafrate filed an unfair labor practice
charge before the Board asserting that the Town timed the
January 12, 2017 pre-suspension hearing in order to attempt
to "extort her into dropping her grievances in exchange
for more lenient treatment." (Decision at 1-2.) The
Board summarily issued a Complaint in the matter on March 1,
2017, alleging that the Town violated R.I.G.L. §
28-7-13(8). (Decision at 2.)
before the Board occurred on April 25, 2017; May 30, 2017;
and June 8, 2017. Iafrate testified on her own behalf on
April 25, 2017. (Hr'g Tr. 14:21-23, Apr. 25, 2017.)
Thomas Kane, Mayor Charles Lombardi, Lynda Labbadia, and
Ronald Coia testified on May 30, 2017. On June 8, 2017, the
Board heard testimony from Frank Bursie and Allyn Reynolds,
and allowed Iafrate to be recalled as a witness.
the distinct differences in testimony regarding the December
9, 2016 call between Iafrate and Reynolds, the Board first
assessed the credibility of the witnesses at the hearing.
(Decision at 10.) The Board found that while Reynolds had
spoken to Iafrate and Kane "became involved" in the
phone call, there was no evidence in the record supporting
Reynolds' testimony that Iafrate had called Reynolds a
"deadbeat" and stated "people have to pay
their bills." Id. at 10-11. Specifically, the
Board noted that Kane did not testify that Reynolds shared
Iafrate's inflammatory alleged comments with him, and
Reynolds did not include those statements in the letter.
Id. The Board also found that Reynolds was not a