Two former Madison police officers have filed complaints with the Maine Human Rights Commission alleging they were discriminated against because of age when the town transitioned its police operations to the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office last year.

David Trask and Joseph Mitchell have filed separate complaints with the commission alleging they were discriminated against because of their age and naming the town of Madison as a defendant. They allege that when the town consolidated operations with the sheriff’s office, the two officers were stripped of rank and lost seniority and benefits they had with the Madison Police Department.

“There were five officers involved (in the transition), three of whom were much younger,” said Robert Sandy, a Waterville attorney who is representing both Mitchell and Trask. “Cpl. Mitchell and Sgt. Trask were decades older and each had something like 27-plus years of seniority. When the town negotiated this agreement with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, they were all basically treated as new police officers.”

Madison Town Manager Tim Curtis said he was not aware Wednesday of the filings with the Human Rights Commission and declined to comment.

Last June, Madison residents approved a police consolidation plan under which the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office would absorb the Madison Police Department and operate the department as a division of the sheriff’s office. The plan was proposed by town officials as a cost savings measure in the wake of the loss of Madison Paper Industries taxes, a paper mill that remains the town’s largest taxpayer despite a recent announcement it will cease operations at the end of this month.

The consolidation went into effect last July, and while statistics show that more crimes are being solved in Madison at a lower cost, none of the five officers employed by the Madison Police Department has remained in Madison.

The complaints were filed with the Human Rights Commission in late April, according to Sandy. They allege that Trask, who is 53, and Mitchell, who is 67, were discriminated against because of their age when the town negotiated contract terms with the sheriff’s office.

“All they had to do was treat everyone equally and fairly, and they didn’t do that,” said Mitchell, of Madison, in an interview Wednesday. He declined to comment further on the case.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said that during negotiations, the sheriff’s office agreed to take on the Madison employees as new employees of the county and that as such they were subject to a six-month probationary period.

“It was unequivocally clear they were new employees and they were subject to county contracts, county rules and the county hiring process,” he said.

Both Mitchell and Trask had more than 27 years of experience and were stripped of their rank, according to their complaints. Trask, a sergeant, and Mitchell, a corporal, were deprived of extra pay stipends they had earned through rank and were made probationary employees, they said. Mitchell resigned from the sheriff’s office in September and Trask was dismissed in December.

Two other officers with the Madison Police Department left for police jobs with other agencies and one officer was moved to a different division of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.

As of last month, the town was paying about $700 per week in unemployment for former Madison Police Chief Barry Moores, whose position was eliminated in the consolidation, and Trask, with the payments expected to continue through June.

In their complaints, Mitchell and Trask said their seniority was reduced to the same level as that of the three younger officers during the transition and they no longer got priority in bidding for shifts. Instead, shifts were allocated alphabetically, placing the two senior officers last on the list, the complaints said.

In addition, they lost sick time and vacation time they had accrued in the transition.

“Technically, they could have been all without a job and there could have been a hiring process,” Lancaster said. “These things (changes in seniority, benefits and scheduling) are affiliated with when you’re applying for a job. The officers weren’t just absorbed. They were new county employees.”

He would not comment when asked whether the town tried to negotiate on behalf of the officers to allow them to keep their seniority or rank.

Mitchell and Trask said their pay remained about the same as what they had been earning with the Madison Police Department — around $19 per hour — but higher health insurance costs with the sheriff’s office resulted in salary reductions or loss of health care.

Under the Madison Police Department, Trask said he received family health insurance coverage at no additional cost; but the same coverage through the sheriff’s office would have cost him $480 per biweekly pay period, about one-third of his paycheck.

In February, Trask filed a federal lawsuit against the town and the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office alleging wrongful termination. He said this week that he has requested the case be dismissed.

“(The human rights complaint) should address the underlying issue rather than just look at procedures not properly followed, which the court case focused on,” Trask said in a Facebook message. He said the complaint will be “more comprehensive” than what the court case focused on.

The original lawsuit alleged that the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office fired Trask in a probationary period, during which there was no union representation. Trask said he was not given a reason for his firing and was told by Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster that his employment “was not going to work out” in December.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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