BERLIN – The former town planner has filed a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities alleging a local builder sexually harassed her for years and that town officials knew but took no action.
Hellyn Riggins left her job in September after receiving word from interim Town Manager Jack Healy that there was nothing the town could do about repeated emails sent to her co-workers and other officials by builder Thomas Coccomo claiming she was having sex with various people.
“At that point I was suffering from extreme emotional distress with various physical symptoms as a result of the respondent’s failure to take any action with respect to Coccomo’s actions and simply could not continue to work under those conditions,” Riggins said in her complaint filed with the CHRO.
In the complaint, Riggins gave examples of emails Coccomo sent in 2013 accusing her of having a substance abuse problem and alleging she was involved in a “sex scandal” with another town official. Other emails sent by Coccomo over the years to town officials accused her of having sex on town property and having sex with another building official who he challenged to meet him at a Mobil gas station in town to have a “man to man” conversation.
As Town Planner and Director of Development Services, Riggins was required to oversee Coccomo’s building activities in the town. Town officials confirmed he was embroiled in several zoning issues including a case where he tried to sell building lots on contaminated land he failed to remediate.
A phone message left at Coccomo Brothers, a Berlin development and construction company, was not returned. Riggins has since taken a job as the Town Manager of Edgeville, Tenn. Her attorney Gregg Adler said the CHRO complaint has passed the assessment phase and a mediation meeting with the town was next. If mediation doesn’t resolve the complaint, the next step would be an investigation or filing a lawsuit in court, he said.
At one point prior to 2015, police officers were hired to attend zoning meetings due to the harassment, Riggins said in her 2015 performance review. But she stopped asking them to attend because one female officer told her she didn’t like her and another spent the meeting laughing with Coccomo.
Riggins forwarded a Jan. 20, 2017 email to the town’s Director of Human Resources and the town attorney with a note telling them the harassment needed to stop. “I have been through his abuse for 13 years. I will not tolerate it any longer, and I certainly will not tolerate it for employees,” she said. “I am asking that he be told that he can no longer meet with me or with any employees without going through a police officer.”
Town officials including the town attorney, Human Resources Director and Police Chief were aware of the issues with Coccomo, said Mayor Mark Kaczynski Friday. “We do take it very seriously,” he said. “All the appropriate town officials were involved. But we have to follow the law.”
Kaczynski said he had no idea how the complaint was resolved among town officials or the status of the CHRO complaint. “I was on the Planning and Zoning Commission for 16 years, I know Hellyn very well,” Kaczynski said. “I know the individual involved is very difficult to deal with. It was taken seriously, it was not ignored by any means. A town employee should not be harassed by anyone.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.