Shannon O'Brien, the suspended chair of the Cannabis Control Commission, filed a lawsuit Thursday against state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, alleging that Goldberg "willfully side-stepped both Massachusetts law and any process at all" in removing O'Brien from her post.

The suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that Goldberg "removed Chair O'Brien without notice, without articulated reason, and without opportunity to be heard" in violation of state law.

Goldberg appointed O'Brien to a five-year term as CCC chair last year. The treasurer's office confirmed on Sept. 15that Goldberg had suspended her, describing it only as a "personnel matter." The state law that established the CCC does not speak to suspension of commissioners, but lays out a process through which they can be removed by the official who appointed them.

Goldberg spoke to the reasoning behind the suspension for the first time earlier Thursday, before the lawsuit was filed.

"Several serious allegations were made by a Commissioner and CCC staff about the Chair’s behavior and the CCC initiated an investigation, hiring an outside law firm," Goldberg said in a statement. "The law firm undertook an investigation and has returned with a report. According to the CCC’s employee handbook, suspension with pay is the only allowable remedy at this point, as the findings are being reviewed and action is considered."

A CCC spokesperson said the commission is “deeply committed to ensuring a workplace where employees are held to high ethical standards and professionalism, and, crucially, free from abusive or harassing behavior that affords them the pathway to confidentially seek human resources-related support as needed.”

The treasurer said an added challenge in the situation is the CCC's status as an independent entity under state law.

"The role of the Treasurer is to appoint the Chair and jointly appoint two other Commissioners, but beyond that the office of the Treasurer has no other authority, oversight, management, or influence over the Commission," Goldberg said.

A CCC spokesperson said the commission's outside counsel, Morgan, Brown & Joy, retained services of an independent investigative firm "to complete a human resources investigation and final report.

“The Commission is committed to maintaining its status as a positive place to work and has policies in place to ensure a workplace free from abusive or harassing behavior,” CCC spokesperson Tim Caputo said. “Employees are held to high ethical standards, which can be found in the agency’s Employee Handbook and its Enhanced Code of Ethics.”

O'Brien earlier this month described the CCC as an agency "riddled with internal discord, lack of accountability and infighting" and said that Goldberg brought her in to serve as a change agent.

Updated: September 29, 2023
This story was updated with additional comment from a Cannabis Control Commission spokesperson.