Fired Elder Affairs worker sues state

Alleges violation of First Amendment rights

A FORMER LONG-TIME compliance worker at the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs is suing the agency, alleging it violated his First Amendment rights and the state Whistleblower Act by firing him.

In the Suffolk Superior Court lawsuit, which was filed in February, Peter Antonellis alleges that he was terminated for speaking out publicly about the agency’s lax oversight of the over 200 assisted living facilities in Massachusetts, as well as for providing documents to the press.

Antonellis’ lawyer, Joseph Sulman, thinks his client got a raw deal.  “Mr. Antonellis spoke out on important issues to the media, and Elder Affairs didn’t like what he had to say, so they decided to punish him for it,” he said.  “The evidence we will present will demonstrate that Mr. Antonellis was retaliated against for his First Amendment activities in trying to call attention to practices that risk the public health.”

Elder Affairs spokeswoman Martina Jackson declined to comment. At the time Antonellis was fired, the Patrick administration declined to comment on the cause of his dismissal, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters. Antonellis declined to release his termination letter on the advice of his attorneys.

Antonellis, who has asked for a jury trial, is seeking unspecified damages for lost wages and emotional distress; unspecified punitive damages; and attorney’s fees and costs.

Some of Antonellis’ major concerns, according to his lawsuit, were delays by Elder Affairs in investigating serious incidents at assisted living facilities, along with a lack of a clear policy for tracking the incidents.

The court filing also says that Antonellis complained numerous times about the inability of Elder Affairs to properly regulate dementia units in assisted living facilities as well the agency’s inadequate responses to allegations of elder abuse.

Assisted living involves apartment-style housing designed for seniors who can no longer live safely on their own but who do not need the intensive, 24/7 medical care available in nursing homes.

Meet the Author
Antonellis said he expressed his concerns internally for years.  When his concerns were not addressed, he tried to get an appointment to see former governor Deval Patrick, but was unsuccessful. He then sent a seven-page memorandum to the Elder Affairs general counsel and the secretary of health and human services summarizing his concern that poor management at the agency was endangering the safety of residents living in assistant living facilities.

He went public with his concerns in a CommonWealth article last September and later in an interview with the Boston Globe. He was fired in November. The assisted living industry and its regulation was the focus of an in-depth article in CommonWealth in January.