Maryland Fire Company Hit with $8 Million Sexual Harassment Suit

A male firefighter paramedic who alleges he has been subjected to a sexually hostile work environment based upon his perceived sexual orientation has filed suit against the Berlin Fire Company.

Zackary C. Tyndall filed suit yesterday in US District Court alleging that the fire company and four supervisors, Bryon Trimble, Derek Simpson, David A. Fitzgerald and Norris P Donohue, engaged in a pattern and practice of harassment based upon their perception that he is homosexual.

The lawsuit alleges:

Trimble repeatedly referred to the Plaintiff as a homosexual in front of the Plaintiff and other firemen and civilians. At first, Mr. Tyndall, who is not a homosexual, tried to ignore Trimble's comments.  However Trimble began referring to him as a “faggot” “queer” or “cock sucker.”

As time passed, Trimble continued with the same type of derogatory comments and Defendants Simpson and Donohue joined in and started referring to the Plaintiff in the aforementioned terms and accused him of being homosexual.

After the 2012 BFC elections Brian Trimble was elected Fire Chief. Plaintiff anticipated continued problems from Trimble and Simpson and again went to speak with Mr. Donohue. Donohue refused to provide any assistance and told the Plaintiff "I want you to keep your f—ing mouth shut this year or I'm going to put a foot up your ass".

In early 2012 Plaintiff went directly to Trimble to again complain. Trimble told him that he had a plan to get rid of him that year. He asked the Plaintiff " If I keep picking on you and calling you gay, can I make you quit."

Unable to get anyone in the fire company to address his complaints, Tyndall and another firefighter went to the mayor of Berlin, who initiated an HR investigation that led to the termination of Donahue as an EMS supervisor. Donahue then filed suit against the town claiming the he worked for the fire company, and that the town lacked the authority to terminate or even discipline him.

Last March a court concluded that pursuant to an agreement between the fire company and the town the fire company’s career personnel were leased to the town to make them eligible for certain benefits, and that they were subject to the control of the mayor for purposes of discipline. The judge upheld Donahue’s termination.

Tyndall’s complaint alleges one count of sexual discrimination under Title VII and one count of intentional infliction of severe emotional distress. He is seeking $2 million in compensatory damages and $6 million if punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Tyndall Complaint

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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