NH Firefighter Alleges Age and Disability Discrimination

A former firefighter in New Hampshire is suing his company officer and his fire department accusing both of age discrimination, disability discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Benjamin P. Noyes filed suit law week against the City of Dover and then fire captain (now Assistant Chief) Paul Haas in US District Court.

Noyes claims that when Chief Haas was his captain, he harassed him for being too young claiming ““I have to be honest with you. I think you are way too young. I only want guys with real life experience on my shift.”

The complaint goes on to list a series of events where Noyes claims Chief Haas harassed, demeaned, and mocked him, referring to him as a “probie-bitch” and allowed others to post signs in the workplace such as:

The most outrageous accusation is that while on a drinking excursion with Dover firefighters to Boston, Noyes claims was poisoned by his colleagues who had earlier joked about “roofying” a firefighter. Noyes alleges his colleague forced him to smoke a cigar after which he felt “sensations of his environment spinning, and he experienced auditory hallucinations and heard echoing voices.”

Upon returning to New Hampshire he went to an emergency room and was treated for having a seizure. Quoting from the complaint:

  • Keith Robinson stated that he believed that Mr. Noyes “likely did receive some toxin, causing hallucinations as well as seizures.” The doctor noted that ‘there are some synthetic illegal drugs [such as] bath salts or others that can cause hallucinations as well as seizures.”
  • On or about May 13, 2015, Mr. Noyes reported to the Dover Fire Department and presented the Chief with a doctor’s note authorizing him to return to work on May 18, 2015, but restricting him from driving until authorized to do so by a neurologist. The Chief told Mr. Noyes that he looked like “sh*t” and that the Chief would not permit Mr. Noyes to return to work until he could drive.
  • Importantly, the Fire Chief did not tell Mr. Noyes in the May 13, 2015, conversation, or at any other time, that the Chief was in any way restricting Mr. Noyes from discussing his medical condition with anyone else at the Fire Department.
  • On or about May 14, 2015, Mr. Noyes called the Chief and informed him that Mr. Noyes’ neurologist wanted to run tests on Monday, May 18, 2015. Mr. Noyes and the Chief agreed in the conversation that Mr. Noyes would return to work as soon as possible thereafter.
  • On or about May 17, 2015, however, Mr. Noyes realized that he was unclear as to whether he was scheduled to be out of work all of the day on May 18 or only part of the day. Mr. Noyes called the Fire Department and spoke to Lieutenant Chabot, who advised Mr. Noyes that he was scheduled to be out the full day.
  • A neurologist examined Mr. Noyes on or about May 18, 2015, and cleared him to resume work full time.
  • On Mr. Noyes’ first day back from his seizure-related absence, the Chief advised him that the Chief was ending his probation and that Mr. Noyes could resign or be terminated. The Chief stated words to the effect: “Taking the medical aspect out of this, you have had trouble following orders and listening to what we say, for example I told you to contact me, and you went and called another officer and got other people involved in this that didn’t need to be.”
  • Noyes responded to the news by saying words to the effect, “It’s pretty convenient how this happens on my first day back from the hospital.” The Chief acknowledged that the circumstances were odd.

The complaint was filed in US District Court and includes four counts: intentional infliction of severe emotional distress, disability discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act, disability discrimination under New Hampshire law, and age discrimination under New Hampshire law.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Noyes v Dover

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.

  • John Bean

    I’m having a tough time connecting the dots on this one. Perhaps Hass was out of line with some age related issues, I think age discrimination (at least federally) cannot be brought by persons under 40 years. On the other hand claiming some type of departmental direct involvement with a “code-red” order on the OFF DUTY excursion, I think the manner in which the medical incident precipitated is irrelevant of not job related. I’m no expert on disability protections, but if he had returned to full duty would those still be extended? Interesting case to think through, but I’m not sure about it.

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