First Amendment lawsuit filed against the town of Chester

Chester. Former deputy town clerk’s suit alleges political retaliation and violation of her First Amendment rights

| 10 Apr 2024 | 10:11

Former Deputy Town Clerk Nanette Batista-Perez has filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Chester Town Clerk Linda Zappala and the Town of Chester, claiming she is a victim of political retaliation for her backing of former Supervisor Robert Valentine in the 2023 election.

This year the Chester Town Board did not reappoint Batista-Perez to her position, allegedly at the recommendation of Zappala. According to the court documents, filed through the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Batista-Perez’s attorney Christopher D. Watkins, Zappala allegedly told Batista-Perez directly that she was “collateral damage” after an intra-party dispute within the Chester Republican Party during the 2023 electoral cycle.

In the court filing, Batista-Perez also alleges that Zappala had an issue with her because her husband, Orlando Perez, voted to replace Zappala as vice-chair of the Republican Party.

She further claims Zappala acknowledged she was an excellent employee but terminated her anyway.

“This is a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” Watkins claimed in a press release summarizing his client’s complaint. “Who Nanette or her husband supported in an election had absolutely nothing to do with her ability to do the work as a deputy town clerk. By all accounts, including Zappala’s, Nanette was an excellent deputy clerk. Unfortunately, Ms. Zappala chose to place her own political agenda above the interests of Chester’s residents.”

Zappala declined to comment on Batista-Perez’s claims. Supervisor Brandon Holdridge said he believed the town to be in the right, but would not comment further.

Zappala & Valentine’s history

In early 2023, per the court filing, the former supervisor called for an investigation into Zappala’s treatment of a town employee, who claimed Zappala created a hostile working environment for her. The town hired an outside law firm to investigate the matter and allegedly concluded that Zappala had acted inappropriately toward the town employee.

The tensions allegedly accelerated in February 2023, after Chester Councilman Robert Courtenay launched a primary challenge to incumbent Valentine. Zappala supported Courtenay and Batista-Perez’s husband was a backer of Valentine’s.

Batista-Perez and her husband Orlando both attended a Valentine fundraiser. In September 2023 the Town Republican Committee voted to replace Courtenay as chairperson and install Valentine, while also voting to oust Zappala as vice chair.

The end result

Batista-Perez alleges in her lawsuit that, as a result of her losing her job, she has lost pay and benefits and suffered stress, which has worsened her medical condition, fibromyalgia. She said she is “depressed and despondent and her enjoyment of life has appreciably diminished.”

Watkins told The Chronicle that there is plenty of case law supporting his client’s First Amendment rights to political activity.

He also said the defendants have asked for additional time to respond to the complaint, which is slated to be heard at the federal courthouse in White Plains on April 15. He said the entire case could last one to two years.