Three Terminated Mass Firefighters Sue Claiming Retaliation

Three Massachusetts firefighters who were terminated just before Christmas last year have filed separate lawsuits claiming their firing was retaliation for cooperating with a state police investigation involving their current fire chief. Fire Captain Rebecca Boutin, Firefighter David Kennedy and Firefighter Kyle Miltimore filed their suits against the City of Westfield over the past two weeks in Hampden County Superior Court.

All three cooperated with a state police investigation into Deputy Chief Patrick Egloff in 2018. Chief Egloff was later promoted to Fire Chief. Shortly after the trio spoke with the state police, the city initiated an investigation into Chief Egloff. That investigation resulted in an attempted firing of Captain Boutin, FF Kennedy and FF Miltimore in 2018. The firing was subsequently overturned by the Hampden County Superior Court. Egloff was appointed Fire Chief in January of 2019.

The confusing facts as explained in Captain Boutin’s complaint are as follows:

  • The Plaintiff had been employed by the Westfield Fire Department since 1999 and was promoted to Captain in 2011.
  • Beginning in 2014, Plaintiff became the subject of demeaning and harassing behavior and disparate treatment from superior officers on the basis of sex.
  • During 2014, she complained to the Chief of the Fire Department that she was being sexually harassed by a Deputy Chief Patrick Egloff.
  • At other times, the Plaintiff was harassed by another Deputy Chief, Bishop.
  • In late November 2017, the Plaintiff was subjected to verbal harassment by Deputy Chief Egloff.
  • Plaintiff complained to then Chief Mary Regan, and following that, was retaliated against in the scheduling of her work.
  • In early 2018, the Plaintiff learned that two women who had frequent contact with the Westfield Fire Department had told other firefighters that they had been sexually assaulted by Deputy Chief Egloff.
  • In early February 2018, Plaintiff was contacted by Massachusetts State Troopers who were investigating these claims.
  • Plaintiff met with the Troopers and cooperated with the investigation.
  • Following this, members of the media began contacting city officials about the allegations against the Deputy Chief.
  • Other employees of the Department warned Plaintiff that members of City Government were “out to get her” and two fellow employees who had cooperated with the State Police investigation.
  • In February 2018, Deputy Chief Bishop (who was the Plaintiffs Deputy Chief at that time) told other firefighters not to contact the Plaintiff and that there would be problems for them if they did.
  • Plaintiff then became ostracized within the Department.
  • Subsequently, Plaintiff began receiving various forms of “non-disciplinary” documentation and “consultation” for supposed job deficiencies that were false charges.
  • Deputy Bishop referred to these as “pre-discipline” and stated “there is some agenda”.
  • Other members of the Department informed the Plaintiff that false rumors were being spread about her that were sexual in nature.
  • Other rumors were told to her that other firefighters would not help her in an emergency.
  • On April 25, 2018, Plaintiffs attorney sent a letter to the Fire Chief complaining about the above cited events of harassment and retaliation.
  • One day later, Deputy Chief Bishop told firefighters that he was in an awkward position because the Chief had ordered him to find things to write Plaintiff up for and to monitor her work.
  • On May 18, 2018, Plaintiff was again cited about issues deemed “pre disciplinary” for no valid reason.
  • On June 13, 2018, Plaintiff was given a written warning again for false reasons.
  • Stress from these actions caused the Plaintiff to take sick leave.
  • In early 2018, the Defendants hired, as their agent, a local attorney to conduct an investigation regarding claims made in an anonymous letter concerning the behavior of Deputy Chief Egloff.
  • The investigation was in fact directed against the Plaintiff and the other firefighters who had cooperated with the state police.
  • Plaintiff and other employees were told by the investigator that the interviews were not going to result in discipline.
  • Even though the report disclosed that Deputy Chief Egloff had admitted to the sexual assault of at least one of the alleged victims, the investigator still falsely accused the Plaintiff of making false accusations, writing the anonymous letter, “disrupting operations”, “eviscerating morale” and of being incompetent as a fire captain.
  • The report contained false and unsubstantiated rumors about the Plaintiff that were defamatory.
  • The report attacked the Plaintiff regarding almost every aspect of her work and did so on the basis of unsubstantiated rumors.
  • The report mocked the Plaintiffs claims of sex discrimination, and also attacked one of the alleged victims.
  • When Captain Boutin went to her work station one day, the Acting Captain, upon seeing her there, went to the other firefighters in the station and told them to watch out there was a rat in the building.
  • On or about January 16, 2019 a prominently displayed photo of the Plaintiff and another firefighter was altered to remove their heads.

The suit names the City and four fire commissioners, Albert Masciadrelli, Patrick Olearcek, Carlo Bonavita, C. Lee Bennett and Jeffrey Siegel, and alleges retaliation, discrimination, and several state law statutory counts. Here is a copy of the complaint:

The parties are due in court tomorrow, February 27, 2020, on Captain Boutin’s motion for a preliminary injunction to restore her pay and benefits.

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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