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Highway worker fired for political affiliation and views, attorney alleges

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PHELPS, NY — The attorney representing a former town of Phelps highway worker said his support of the candidate who ran against Highway Superintendent Terry Featherly in the Republican primary earlier in the year is why he was terminated and why they may file suit against the town.

The employee, Ryan VanCamp, was fired in June, for what he was told at first was “things weren’t working out” and later, in his termination letter, “poor performance and unsafe operation of equipment” after a common mowing accident, according to Adam Grogan, an employment attorney with Tully Rinckey representing VanCamp.

That he was not initially given a valid reason initially leads one to believe there was another reason, which Grogan said was VanCamp’s political affiliation.

And that, he said, is a violation of New York state labor law, in which he cited N.Y. Lab. Law § 201-d(2)(a), “an employee may not be discharged from their employment on the basis of their political activities outside of working hours, off of the employer’s premises and without use of the employer’s equipment or other property, if such activities are legal.”

A notice of claim has been filed against the town, Grogan said, which could go two ways: either a hearing to be scheduled, at which the municipality is able to question his client and could lead to a settlement, or a lawsuit.

VanCamp had a yard sign in his yard, in favor of Featherly’s opponent, Philip Frere Jr. Clearly, Grogan said, Featherly did not take too kindly to what he felt was disloyalty or some kind of personal slight and decided to remove VanCamp from his position on drummed-up charges for exercising his political rights.

“There was nothing in Mr. VanCamp’s employment history that would indicate things weren’t working out or that he was not a good employee for the highway department,” Grogan said. “Everything indicates Mr. Featherly took issue with Mr. VanCamp’s yard sign for his political opponent.”

Featherly said in an email that because a notice of claim has been filed against him, the town of Phelps, and the Phelps Highway Department, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.

“However, it is my intent to fully defend my position in this matter, at the right time and in the right forum, on the advice of my counsel,” Featherly said in the email.

VanCamp, who was a motor equipment operator, had worked for the town highway department for two years, Grogan said, and during that time, demonstrated consistent and reliable attendance, and had a lack of disciplinary issues.

Grogan said he believes his client hit a telephone pole while mowing along the side of a highway, but he is not aware of any significant damage. He added that to his knowledge, no other employees had been terminated for this reason.

“I know that Mr. Van Camp continued to mow that afternoon so I don’t believe that any damage was severe enough to put the mower out of commission,” Grogan said.

Featherly spoke with VanCamp about his political views and accused him of posting on social media about not voting for Featherly’s re-election, and later terminated his employment, Grogan said.

“That’s a violation of New York state law; cut, clear and simple,” Grogan said.

Featherly defeated Frere in the GOP primary in June, 283 votes to 234.

Featherly is running for re-election this fall with the Republican Party and Road of Right Choice lines, against Frere, who carries the Pave the Way line.

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