Mass Firefighter Sent for Psych Eval Sues for $2 Million

A Massachusetts firefighter who claims he was retaliated against and ordered to go for a psychiatric evaluation for complaining the town was not properly compensating military reservists, has filed suit against the Town of Dracut, the fire chief, the HR director and the town manager.

Justin George filed suit last week in US District Court alleging disability discrimination under state and federal law, a violation of the First Amendment, and several state law claims. He is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages for the emotional distress he has suffered, and $1 million in punitive damages.

As explained in the complaint:

  • Justin George is employed as a firefighter for the Town of Dracut.
  • He is also a Sergeant in the Massachusetts National Guard who has been on active duty in Afghanistan.
  • The Town of Dracut has a by-law requiring it to supplement the lower pay that its employees receive when fulfilling their duty as reservists.
  • When Mr. George asserted that the Town was not making the proper payments he was subjected to harassment and retaliation by the Defendants.
  • The harassment and retaliation intensified when he spoke publicly about the Town’s unlawful payments and after he filed a warrant with the Town Meeting to correct the practice.
  • Ultimately Defendants trumped up charges that Mr. George was unstable, and they conspired to suspend him unless he would submit to a baseless psychiatric examination.
  • Mr. George remained on suspension for over a year until an arbitrator ruled that the Town had no legitimate reason for its demand that he submit to a psychiatric examination.
  • Mr. George filed a complaint with the EEOC which also found that the Town had no basis for its actions and had discriminated and retaliated against him.
  • Mr. George suffered financial losses from the Defendants’ actions, has had his career promotional opportunities severely impacted, has been smeared throughout the Town of Dracut and the community of firefighters as someone with psychiatric issues, and had suffered severe and prolonged emotional distress impacting on himself and his family.
  • He brings suit to redress those issues.
  • On June 2, 2018 Mr. George filed a harassment complaint with the Town against Chief Brouillette, Town Manger Duggan and Fire Captain Voulgaris because of the harassment they had directed against him in retaliation for his attempts to have the Town change the way it compensated employees for military duty time.
  • Immediately after receiving Mr. George’s complaint Lindberg sent a copy to Town Manager Duggan and Chief Brouillette.
  • The only action that Lindberg took in relation to the complaint was to disclose to Duggan and Brouillette that Mr. George had filed a complaint against them. Lindberg never did any investigation of the complaint and the Town has never released any finding on the complaint.
  • Immediately thereafter, and without any basis for doing so, Chief Brouillette began an investigation of Mr. George during which the Chief falsely accused Mr. George of abusing his sick leave in connection with his military leave.
  • The investigation was yet another attempt to harass and intimidate Mr. George. As part of his investigation Chief Brouillette contacted officials in Mr. George’s National Guard Unit.
  • On June 16, 2018 Mr. George had his first meeting with Human Resource Director Lindberg to discuss the hostile work environment claim.
  • During a contract negotiation meeting between the Town and the Union Town Manager Duggan made a comment about the military leave item on the Town meeting warrant and stated how that if adopted it could result in the Town having fewer funds available for raises for members of the Union.
  • That statement was an attempt to coerce and intimidate Mr. George into dropping the warrant article by threatening that the firefighters would not receive any raise if Mr. George persisted.
  • On June 26, 2018 Mr. George had his second meeting with Human Resource Director
  • Lindberg regarding his hostile work environment claim against Chief Brouillette.
  • Town Labor Counsel Peter McQuillan was also present during this meeting.
  • On June 28, 2018 Mr. George made a public document request to Town Manager Duggan in connection with the military leave pay dispute.
  • On August 2, 2018 Mr. George sent Human Resource Director Lindberg an email inquiring as to the status of the hostile work environment investigation.
  • Within hours of making sending that email to Human Resource Director Lindberg, Town Manager Duggan placed Mr. George on administrative leave.
  • Duggan also banned Mr. George from the Dracut Fire Department property and ordered him to return station keys and his Dracut Fire Department ID.
  • Although he had neither factual basis nor authority to do so, Town Manager Duggan ordered Mr. George to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Duggan told George that he would not be allowed to return to duty as a firefighter until and unless he submitted to the psychiatric evaluation.
  • Suspending Mr. George and ordering him to submit to a baseless psychiatric examination was the Town’s latest act of retaliation against Mr. George.

Here is a copy of the complaint

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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