MANCHESTER — A former Manchester reserve police officer and dispatcher who was subjected to what her lawyer called a “frat house” atmosphere of crude sexual comments and harassment will receive $500,000 from the town. 

The town entered into an agreement for judgment in which it acknowledged that Adrienne Costa was forced to work in a sexually hostile environment and suffered retaliation after she complained. 

The agreement heads off what had been expected to be a two-week civil trial next month in Salem Superior Court. 

Costa filed suit in 2016 against the town, alleging that officials had permitted a sexually hostile environment, and that Christopher Locke, an officer in the police department, made a secret recording of her, violating the state’s wiretap law. 

The suit alleged that there were sexually inappropriate comments as early as her 2013 job interview, when she was asked how she would respond to being called various sexually explicit vulgarities. 

After her hiring, she was forced to share the department’s locker room with male officers, some of whom had posted crude images on their lockers, and had to deal with inappropriate comments. 

Costa also alleged that while she was pregnant, another officer, Sgt. Richard Newton, made repeated references to her pregnancy and touched her belly. After she returned from maternity leave, she was pumping milk during a break when Newton played a prank that forced her to rush out of the office partially dressed. 

When she filed a complaint with the town in 2015, the response was inadequate, her attorney said.

In its release, the town said it took action immediately after Costa’s complaint in 2015, citing the hiring of an outside investigator, disciplinary actions against the two officers, sexual harassment training, construction of a separate locker room for women and revamped sexual discrimination and harassment policies. 

Costa’s lawyer said the response was not enough, noting that the two officers were suspended for only a day or two and the sexual harassment training session was combined with a ceremony in which one of the officers received a commendation.

Taking responsibility

In a press release announcing the settlement, town officials said the department and its culture have changed in the past three years. 

“As a town government, we need to be able to look inward, and in this instance it was clear that the plaintiff was treated poorly, endured unprofessional working conditions, and was discriminated against based on her gender and her status as an expectant and later new mother,” Town Administrator Gregory Federspiel said in the press release issued Thursday. “We need to take ownership of these facts, because it is the only way to improve.”

“They’re accepting responsibility,” said Marisa Campagna, Costa’s attorney. “It definitely shows that this made an impact, and they hopefully have learned a lot from this.”

Costa now works for the Danvers Police Department. 

Manchester recently hired two new female officers. 

Campagna said she is encouraged by the direction the department has been taking under its current police chief, Edward Conley. 

Conley said the department is “committed to upholding a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture, which is in the best interests not only of the police department, but of the citizens we are sworn to serve.”

Locke and his attorney, Adam Simms, entered a similar agreement for judgment in February to resolve the wiretap allegation. 

That agreement came shortly after a judge denied a request by Simms to dismiss the wiretapping allegation against Locke, citing Locke’s own admission that he’d recorded Costa without her consent.  

That earlier agreement calls for Costa to be paid $15,000.

Simms said Locke “has an accomplished history as an officer and detective in the Manchester Police Department. I’m sure he is glad the litigation is over and that all of the parties can put this behind them.”

Both the $500,000 on behalf of the town and the $15,000 on behalf of Locke will be paid by the town’s insurance company under its liability policy. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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