NY Firefighter Appeals Disability Ruling

A firefighter who was terminated in 2014, is appealing a trial court decision to dismiss several of his disability related claims despite the fact that most of his suit remains intact.

Daryl R. Prindle was terminated from the Norwich Fire Department on October 29, 2014 for failing to maintain his EMT certification and a driver’s license. Prindle, who claims he has been suffering from work-related PTSD since 2008, accused the department of disability discrimination, retaliation, and disability-related hostile work environment under both state and federal law.

According to a decision issued last month by US District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby, Prindle’s problems were initiated by his union:

  • In late February 2014, the Union requested a meeting to discuss a safety concern involving one of the Firefighters.
  • The meeting was held on February 27, 2014. Fire Chief Tracy Chawgo, former Mayor Joseph Maiurano and Human Resources Director Deborah DeForest attended the meeting on behalf of the City.
  • At the meeting, the Union representatives explained that one of the Firefighters had been acting out of sorts, including bumping into walls, having pinpoint pupils, and engaging in odd behaviors that made them suspect that he might be using drugs.
  • After initially refusing to name the Firefighter, the Union representatives eventually revealed that Plaintiff was the Firefighter at issue.
  • The next day, Plaintiff informed Ms. DeForest that he was taking a leave of absence.
  • He simultaneously filed a Workers’ Compensation claim … alleging that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).

Prindle returned to work in May, 2014. In July, he was notified that he needed to recertify for EMT by the end of the month. From the decision:

  • On July 29, 2014, Chief Chawgo was notified that Plaintiff had appeared at the fire station in a disoriented state while bleeding profusely from his right hand.
  • He was taken to the emergency room where he received 36 stitches to close the lacerations.
  • Chief Chawgo visited Plaintiff at the hospital and Plaintiff told him that the injuries were caused by punching a tree and mirror.
  • In late September 2014, Ms. DeForest was made aware through the New York State License Event Notification System (“LENS”) that Plaintiff’s license had been suspended.
  • On October 9, 2014, Chief Chawgo advised Plaintiff by letter that it had come to Defendants’ attention that he no longer possessed a valid New York State Driver’s License or ALS certification.
  • Plaintiff was directed to appear at a meeting scheduled for October 22, 2014, at
  • which he would have the opportunity to produce any evidence and/or information regarding the status of his Driver’s License and ALS certification.
  • At the meeting, Plaintiff admitted that his New York State Driver’s License had been suspended and that he did not possess a valid ALS certification.

He was thereafter terminated by the Common Council, prompting a suit in US District Court for the Northern District of New York. The suit named the City of Norwich, the Norwich Fire Department, Fire Chief Tracy L. Chawgo, and HR Director Deborah DeForest. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Prindle’s claims. In ruling on the city motions, Judge Suddaby ruled:

  1. Plaintiff’s discrimination claim under the ADA SURVIVES Defendants’ motion;
  2. Plaintiff’s reasonable-accommodation claim under the ADA SURVIVES Defendants’ motion;
  3. Plaintiff’s discrimination claim under the NYSHRL SURVIVES Defendants’ motion;
  4. Plaintiff’s reasonable-accommodation claim under the NYSHRL SURVIVES Defendants’ motion;
  5. All of Plaintiffs individual liability claims against Defendants Chawgo and DeForest are DISMISSED except for those individual liability claims under the NYSHRL described above;
  6. Plaintiff’s retaliation claim under the ADA is DISMISSED;
  7. Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under the ADA is DISMISSED;
  8. Plaintiff’s retaliation claim under the NYSHRL is DISMISSED;
  9. Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under the NYSHRL is DISMISSED;
  10. Plaintiff’s claims for back pay and front pay are DISMISSED; and it is further ORDERED that counsel are directed to appear on MAY 3, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. in chambers for a pretrial conference, at which counsel are directed to appear with settlement authority, and in the event that the case does not settle, trial will be scheduled at that time.

Prindle is appealing the decision to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the notice of appeal, he is only challenging the court’s ruling on item 10, the dismissal of his claims for back pay and front pay.

Here is Judge Suddaby’s decision: Prindle v Norwich

Here is the notice of appeal: Prindle v Norwich APPEAL

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.
x

Check Also

Federal Claims Dismissed in Arizona EMS Assault Case

A lawsuit filed in 2015 against the City of Glendale and two Glendale firefighters over an altercation with a patient has been partially resolved by a US District Court judge. Chief District Court Judge G. Murray Snow dismissed all federal claims brought by the family of James Murillo, and remanded the case to state court to address the remaining state law claims.

Atlanta Settles With Chief Cochran for $1.2 Million

The City of Atlanta has agreed to settle a wrongful termination and religious discrimination lawsuit brought by former Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. Chief Cochran was fired by Mayor Kasim Reed in 2015 over a self-published book the chief authored about his religious beliefs. Reed believed the book was critical of homosexuality.