Providence Fire Faces Another Sexual Harassment Suit

The Providence Fire Department is facing another federal court lawsuit by a female officer alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. Rescue Captain Danielle Masse claims she was harassed by coworkers and ultimately disciplined by the department on account of her gender, her sexual orientation, and the fact she testified on behalf of a coworker who recently was awarded $800,000 by a federal court jury.

According to the complaint, Captain Masse was disciplined shortly after it was revealed she would testify on behalf of Rescue Lieutenant Lori Franchina, who was suing the department for sexual harassment and retaliation. The discipline arose out of a verbal altercation Captain Masse had with a Rhode island State Trooper at the scene of a traffic accident.

According to the complaint:

  • The events upon which the City based the [false and retaliatory] charges against Masse occurred on December 14, 2014. Masse, while on duty, responded to a single-car accident. Rhode Island State Troopers also responded to the scene.
  • The driver of the vehicle was found to be in possession of several bags of heroin.
  • The driver of the vehicle was under the influence of heroin while operating the vehicle.
  • Masse, following protocol, transported the driver to the hospital for medical treatment.
  • Masse had no discretion to do anything other than transport the driver to the hospital.
  • Pursuant to Department policy, and the standard of care of her profession, a patient under the influence of powerful narcotics like heroin is incapable of withholding consent for treatment. Masse and Rhode Island State Police Troopers all observed the individual to have been involved in a massive car-wreck, with blood-shot and pin-point eyes, slurred speech, unsteady gait, inability or refusal to respond to simple questions, and covered in his own vomit. Masse and the Rhode Island State Troopers all concluded that the individual was under the influence of heroin.
  • Masse, based on her education, experience, and training also suspected that the patient may have suffered a traumatic brain injury or, in the alternative, was in danger of overdosing.
  • According to Department polices, the standard of care for EMT’s, and common-sense Masse transported the patient to the hospital for observation and treatment.
  • A Rhode Island State Trooper, however, wanted to take the individual into custody on the-spot and demanded that Masse ”get the refusal signed.” “Get the refusal signed,” in the field of emergency medical services, means that the Trooper was demanding that she accept the patient’s refusal of consent so that he would not be transported to the hospital – allowing the Trooper to take him into police custody on the spot.
  • After a short argument, and in recognition of the Chain of Command at a rescue scene, the Trooper relented and allowed the patient to be transported.
  • Masse called a fire chief to the hospital to complain about the Trooper. She was told that “we get along with these guys. We don’t want any problems.”
  • The Trooper also complained about Masse.
  • That complaint went nowhere until Masse was identified as a witness in the Franchina case.
  • Masse was notified of potential pending charges against her within one week of being disclosed as a witness in the Franchina case and she was preferred on charges within three weeks of her disclosure as a witness.

Captain Masse is represented by the same attorneys who represented Lt. Franchina. Here is a copy of the complaint: Masse v City of Providence

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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