FOXBORO - Two health department employees have filed a lawsuit alleging that Health Agent Pauline Clifford's professional shortcomings have "devastated" the office's functioning and placed the public health at risk.

An attorney for town Sanitarian Marc MacFarland and environmental specialist Andrea McGillicuddy filed the suit May 11 in Norfolk Superior Court.

The suit describes Clifford, who was promoted to health agent in 2008 without the minimum advertised credentials for the job, as an unqualified and abusive manager.

It states that she has defamed her two subordinates by spreading rumors of drug abuse, violated the privacy of their medical records and retaliated against and harassed them for reporting her actions.

"As a result of Clifford's failure to obtain the necessary licenses and professional credentials for her position, a significant number of mandated health and safety inspections have not been performed in the town of Foxboro, posing a significant threat to public health," the lawsuit alleges.

The suit claims that, as of this month, Clifford still lacks the necessary licenses and professional certificates for the health agent position and to conduct septic system inspections.

It alleges Clifford "forged" MacFarland's initials last December on a septic system repair plan.

Town Manager Andrew Gala and the Town of Foxboro are also named as defendants charged with negligent hiring, supervision and retention of Clifford.

The action, filed by attorney F. Henry Ellis, III, of Boston, seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

Through town labor counsel Leo Peloquin, Gala and health board Chairman Paul Steeves issued the following statement Wednesday: "It continues to be the policy of the town and the board of health to handle personnel matters including litigation as confidentially as possible.

"It is unfortunate that not everyone shares that view. The town and the board will continue to try and resolve the issues amongst employees at the board of health. The town and the board do not concede that the issues constitute a violation of any employees' legal rights."

Clifford had no comment.

The suit also alleges that Clifford:

Coerced McGillicuddy and MacFarland with threats they should resign if they want a good employment reference.

Drew up and ordered them to sign new office policies that conflict with the town's personnel bylaws.

Lobbied Gala and Steeves this month to put MacFarland on an involuntary medical leave.

In November 2008, the board of health recommended Clifford's promotion to health agent, succeeding long-time agent George Young. Clifford lacked the advertised requirement of a bachelor's degree and experience. There were 18 applicants.

Gala agreed to the promotion, but also required Clifford to take courses and obtain other qualifications.

To date, Peloquin has billed the town $3,654 in the dispute.

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