RI Union President Sues Town

Another lawsuit has been filed in the ongoing battle between the firefighters and the town administration in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. IAFF Local 3328 union president William Perry filed suit against the town, Town Council President Sue Cieniki, Town Manager Gail Corrigan, and Finance Director Linda Dykeman alleging violations of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act and the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act.

The claims date back to 2017 and have been covered extensively here on two earlier occasions with regard to the lawsuits that have previously been filed against the town, Cieniki and Corrigan. Those articles are:

RI Firefighter Sues Council President and Town Over Outrageous Remarks

RI Firefighter Ordered Reinstated – Town Manager’s Appointment Illegal

By my count there have been at least five lawsuits filed against the town and town officials over fire department related matters since 2017. This does not include suits filed by other town employees who have been impacted by personnel decisions by Cieniki and Corrigan, nor a suit by the town against the firefighters’ local to obtain a declaratory judgment allowing a switch from 4 – 42 hour per week shifts to three – 56 hour per week shifts as a management prerogative. I am also not confident that I have all of the litigation activity associated with the fire department.

Besides being union president, Perry is also a fire lieutenant in the department. He was disciplined recently by the new interim fire chief and claims that his discipline and the terminations of his wife and brother from the town are all related to the ongoing controversy. Lieutenant Perry’s most recent complaint does a good job of chronicling much of what has transpired including providing context to some of the litigation:

  • A meeting was held in the Town Hall on the morning of June 12, 2017. It was attended by Cienki, Lt. Perry, former Town Manager Tom Coyle, Town Councilman Sean Todd, firefighter Michael Jones and then-Fire Chief Russell McGillivray.
  • During the meeting, Cienki stated that she was unhappy with several Town firefighters who had formerly worked for other localities because they came to the Town with a “history”.
  • In particular, Cienki singled out Lt. Perry. Cienki stated to the group: “I will cut off his balls and feed them to his god damn dog” if Lt. Perry did not “handle” the firefighters.
  • She issued the same threat to another firefighter, David J. Gorman, additionally saying that Gorman was a “sociopath.”
  • By letter dated July 19, 2017, Lt. Perry lodged a formal complaint with then-Fire Chief McGillivray about the comments Cienki made at the June 12, 2017 meeting.
  • Two days later (July 21, 2017), the Town hired a new clerk at the Town fire department. Lt. Perry’s wife had previously applied for this position. The person who was hired instead of Ms. Perry had less seniority than Ms. Perry, was not a current Town employee, and had not even applied for the job.
  • After being passed over for the Town fire department clerk position, on August 9, 2017, Lt. Perry’s wife filed an employment discrimination claim to the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights (the “Commission”).
  • Two days later (August 11, 2017), Dykeman conducted an informal audit of the finance department, where Lt. Perry’s wife worked. Dykeman concluded that the staff of the finance department should be reduced by one clerk.
  • On August 17, 2017, Lt. Perry, through counsel, sent a letter to the Town Solicitor asking for a response to the complaint he had filed about Cienki.
  • Two days later (August 19, 2017), Corrigan discharged James Perry, Lt. Perry’s brother, from his position as a Town firefighter. Four days later (August 21, 2017), Corrigan fired Ms. Perry, effective September 5, 2017.
  • On August 21, 2017, Corrigan responded to Lt. Perry’s formal complaint against Cienki. Corrigan confirmed that the allegations in Lt. Perry’s complaint were true and that Cienki had indeed made the statements about which he complained. Nonetheless, Corrigan announced that the Town would not discipline Cienki.
  • Upon learning that Ms. Perry had lost her job, on August 23, 2017, Lt. Perry went with his wife to the Town Hall to retrieve personal items from her desk.
  • In the hallway, Dykeman confronted Lt. Perry’s wife and demanded to see what she had taken from her desk. Ms. Perry responded they were her personal things. Dykeman began yelling that Ms. Perry must report to the Town Manager to display what she had taken from her desk. Shaken, Ms. Perry and Lt. Perry left the Town Hall.
  • At about 1:15 p.m. on August 23, 2017, Dykeman obtained from the police a no trespass order on Ms. Perry that applied to “125 Main St. East Greenwich — Finance Office” and was then amended to include “all Town offices.”
  • At about 4:28 p.m. on August 23, 2017, the Town sent a memorandum by email to a distribution list that included “All-Fire,” “All-Police,” “All-Town,” and the Town Council.
  • The memorandum, addressed to “All Town Employees,” announced that “a restraining order has been issued to former Town employee Laurie Perry . . . from any Town building or facility[.]
  • Given this situation, you are directed not to allow Ms. Perry onto . . . Town Property . . . . If you see [ ] Ms. Perry in or upon Town buildings [etc] please notify the . . . . Police.”
  • In fact, no “restraining order” had ever been issued against Ms. Perry. Contrary to what was stated in the memorandum, Ms. Perry was not a “former” employee, because her firing had not yet become effective.
  • Also on August 23, 2017, Corrigan emailed McGillivray a memorandum that falsely states: “as a result of an incident that occurred today at Town Hall, a restraining order has been issued to former Town employee Laurie Perry, restraining her from coming to, or entering upon any Town building or facility.” Corrigan’s memorandum went on to state, incorrectly, that “Lt. Perry directed his wife to not answer or comply with Director Dykeman’s requests.”
  • Corrigan then directed McGillivray to instruct Lt. Perry that “he is not to come into Town Hall during normal business hours unless it is directly related to his duties and responsibilities as a firefighter.”
  • By email, MacGillivray forwarded Corrigan’s memorandum and directive to Lt. Perry.
  • On or about August 28, 2017, Lt. Perry, through counsel, sent a letter to the Town Solicitor stating that Corrigan’s response to Lt. Perry’s complaint was unacceptable.
  • Also, in August 2017, James Perry, Lt. Perry’s brother, filed an action against the
  • Town in Rhode Island Superior Court for wrongfully discharging him from his position as a Town firefighter and requested reinstatement (captioned as East Greenwich Firefighters Association v. Corrigan, et al., C.A. No. KC-2017-0898). James Perry’s verified complaint was signed by both James Perry and Lt. Perry. Id. September 2017
  • The dismissal of Lt. Perry’s wife became effective on September 5, 2017.
  • After Ms. Perry’s employment was terminated, she was entitled, under her collective bargaining agreement, to a six-month period of automatic recall if a position with the Town, for which she was qualified, became available.
  • On information and belief, at a department heads meeting in or about early October 2017, Corrigan stated that she would never allow the Town to recall Ms. Perry for any position with the Town because “she’s a criminal and a child abuser.”
  • On November 8, 2017, this Court issued a decision reinstating Lt. Perry’s brother, James Perry, to his position on the Town fire department because the Town had “no valid basis to terminate [him].” (See East Greenwich Firefighters Association v. Corrigan, et al., C.A. No. KC-2017-0898, dated November 8, 2017.)
  • On or about November 27, 2017, Lt. Perry submitted a charge to the Commission asserting claims under the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), R.I. Gen.Laws § 28-5-1 et seq., related to the June 2017 meeting and the Town’s subsequent retaliation against him and his family members.
  • On December 18, 2017, Lt. Perry’s wife filed an action in Rhode Island Superior Court against the Town and others related to her defamatory, discriminatory and retaliatory treatment (Perry v. Town of East Greenwich, et al., C.A. No. KC-2017-1274).
  • On or about January 25, 2018, Ms. Perry submitted a charge to the Commission asserting claims under FEPA regarding her defamatory, discriminatory and retaliatory treatment by the Town.
  • On April 19, 2018, the Town, through Fire Chief Robinson, initiated an investigation of Lt. Perry regarding a document faxed to the fire house. Robinson claimed that Lt. Perry saw the document in the fax machine but left it “unsecured.”
  • On April 23, 2018, Lt. Perry testified at a Town Council meeting regarding the Town’s proposal to adopt a 56-hour work week for Town firefighters. Lt. Perry was critical of this proposal.
  • Two days later (April 25, 2018), Corrigan sent an email to Town residents alleging that Lt. Perry’s testimony at the Town Council meeting was “false and misleading.”
  • Corrigan purposefully disclosed personal information about Lt. Perry in this email.
  • Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-15-5, by letter dated May 30, 2018, Lt. Perry wrote to the East Greenwich Town Council regarding the defamatory and sexually harassing comments made about him by Cienki at the June 12, 2017 meeting. The letter also recounted the Town’s campaign of retaliation and harassment directed against Lt. Perry and his family that occurred after he complained about Cienki’s conduct.
  • Perry stated that he reserved his right to file an appropriate legal action unless he received monetary compensation and other relief from the Town and Cienki within 40 days.
  • Neither the Town nor Cienki responded to Lt. Perry’s letter.
  • On or about June 13, 2018, the Town, through Robinson, completed the investigation it had opened in April 2018 with regard to the document that Lt. Perry saw in a fax machine. The Town disciplined Lt. Perry for his failure to “secure or protect the document” by imposing a two-shift suspension without pay, and by putting the suspension notice in his permanent personnel file.
  • This suspension was the first that Lt. Perry had ever received in his lengthy career as a firefighter.
  • The Town Council’s agenda for its July 9, 2018 meeting listed a vote to dismiss a fire lieutenant without stating his or her name. After an executive session, that item was removed from the agenda.
  • For some reason, both Corrigan and Cienki told the Providence Journal that the fire lieutenant listed on the agenda was not Lt. Perry. When their statement was published by the Providence Journal on July 10, 2018, their statement unnecessarily associated Lt. Perry with a fire lieutenant being terminated.

Here is a copy of the complaint: William Perry v Town of East Greenwich

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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