Delaware Fire Company Sued For Third Time By Same Member

A volunteer fire company in Delaware is being sued for the third time by a female member who now claims she has been retaliated against on account of her previous suits. Wendy Lowe is suing the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. alleging breach of contract, violation of her due process rights, defamation, civil conspiracy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Lowe sued the fire company in US District Court in 2011 alleging “harassment including but not limited to dangerous tampering with her turnout gear, removal of her turnout gear, and threats and hostile and vulgar language directed at her by male members of Laurel.” That case was dismissed without prejudice in 2013.

Also in 2013, Lowe filed suit in state court under the Delaware’s Whistleblower Protection Act, alleging she was retaliated against after she reported a fire company employee for violating state law related to EMS reporting. That case was dismissed pursuant to a settlement that called for the fire company to pay Lowe $7,500, provide sexual harassment training to all members, and reinstate her to life member status. The settlement included a non-disparagement clause and a confidentially clause.

The current suit was filed in state court in August, and removed to US District Court last Wednesday. Among the allegations:

  • Plaintiff and her husband, Michael, have been subjected to repeated harassment by Laurel members and officers because “they filed a lawsuit and received money from Laurel” in violation of the confidentiality and retaliation provisions of that Agreement. That harassment includes but is not limited to:
    1. Verbal abuse and assault by Laurel employee Calvin Yelverton (“Yelverton”) at a fatal motor vehicle accident scene on Route 24 and at another motor vehicle accident scene on Route 13;
    2. Verbal abuse and assault by Laurel employees Yelverton, Leah Burge, Brad Taylor, Andrew Klink, and other employees and members, at several fire scenes and during several EMS responses; and
    3. Verbal abuse and assault at the station by Laurel members Jeff Hill, Barry Sullivan, Timothy West, and Mark Oliphant, and Laurel employee Yelverton, and other Laurel members and employees who will be identified through discovery.
  • This harassment reached a crescendo on June 24, 2016, when Plaintiff received written notice that Laurel employee Calvin Yelverton, who had complained about Plaintiff prior to the earlier suit, had made another Complaint about her.
  • The notice Plaintiff received indicated that she had summarily been suspended from membership for conduct unbecoming a member and disregard of an order from the departmental officers.
  • That suspension was to run from July 1, 2016 through July 30, 2016.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Lowe v Laurel FD

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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