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2 women in gossip case sue N.H. town

Contend their constitutional rights violated

HOOKSETT, N.H. - Two of the "Hooksett Four" are suing the New Hampshire town in federal court.

Sandra Piper and Michelle Bonsteel filed the lawsuit Friday accusing the town of violating their constitutional rights and the town's charter when it fired them for gossiping about their boss.

Bonsteel, the town's former code enforcement officer, was reinstated last month with back pay and a letter of reprimand.

Piper, who worked for the town for 27 years, says she is devastated by the April firings.

Piper and Bonsteel say that as department heads they could only be fired for cause and only by the town administrator. They say the town did neither. They also say the town violated their 14th Amendment rights to due process.

"I think what upset me the most was we never got a chance to defend ourselves," said Piper. "We were automatically guilty. Maybe if we had a chance to tell our side of the story, things would have turned out differently. Even hardened criminals are innocent before proven guilty."

She said she is having a hard time sleeping and difficulty finding a new job.

The suit wants Piper reinstated and both women reimbursed for lost wages, benefits, and legal fees. The women also want compensation for emotional distress and enhanced compensation for the town's "intentional violation of their rights under New Hampshire law."

The town had no comment on the lawsuit.

The nine-member town council voted in a closed-door session April 11 to fire Piper and Bonsteel along with administrative assistants Joanne Drewniak and Jessica Skorupski. They based the firings on an attorney's report that the women had been gossiping about Town Administrator David Jodoin in derogatory terms, and because they discussed a rumor that he was having an affair with another female employee.

The women, dubbed the "Hooksett Four," say they neither started nor spread the rumor, merely questioned why another employee seemed to be getting preferential treatment. No one has said there is any truth to the rumor.

The council called the gossip malicious slander.

The council said the women's conduct was insubordinate, dishonest and unsuitable, interfered with job performance and had an adverse effect on the efficiency of town services.

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