Patterson Settles Retaliation Suit With Dispatcher For $80k

A New Jersey dispatcher who sued the Patterson Fire Department in federal court over harassment he sustained after reporting misconduct by two firefighters has received an $80,000 settlement.

Robert Connizzo claimed that co-workers harassed, assaulted, and retaliated against him for informing superior officers about a conversation he overheard on a recorded line. According to the lawsuit, the complicated facts are as follows:

  • On November 8, 2011, plaintiff arrived at work and was immediately ordered by his supervisor, defendant Behnke, to listen to calls that came into dispatch from the day before, November 7, 2011.
  • Plaintiff was instructed to do so in order to find a medical call that had come through to dispatch but was not handled properly.
  • While doing what he was ordered to do, plaintiff came upon a call in the dispatch system between defendant Leticia Howe and Paterson Firefighter Kippy Smith.
  • During said call, Howe and Smith could be heard planning illegal activity, including the use of narcotics, and also planning a deliberate violation of the City of Paterson and/or the Paterson FD’s sick leave policy.

Connizzo reported the matter, and:

  • Within days of reporting said call and subsequently generating said reports at defendant Murray’s request, plaintiff became the subject of significant and egregious retaliatory behavior.
  • Said behavior included but was not limited to being called a “fucking rat”, a “piece of shit”, “garbage”, being told “snitches get stitches” and being called a “faggot”, among other defamatory remarks.
  • Said behavior was perpetrated by defendant Leticia Howe, defendant Wesley and a number of Paterson Firefighters.
  • Additionally, said behavior was often perpetrated in the presence of defendant [Patterson FD Battalion Chief] Murray, plaintiffs supervisor, who did nothing to stop it in mid-December, 2011, plaintiff was called into a meeting with … [Deputy Chief] Fleming.
  • Defendant Fleming advised plaintiff that he had listened to the subject call with [Patterson Police Chief] Posterino.
  • Fleming further advised that “nothing would come of it” and that defendant Posterino was “pissed” at plaintiff for reporting said illegal and violative activity and for writing the report(s) that defendant Murray had ordered him to write.
  • Throughout the rest of December, 2011 and January, 2012, said retaliatory behavior continued.
  • Plaintiff continued to complain of same to defendants Murray and Behnke who never addressed the issue. He also continued to inquire as to his requested transfer, which did not come through.
  • On January 21, 2012 at 12:15 a.m. two Little Falls Police Officers came to plaintiffs home.
  • Said officers advised that the Little Falls Police Department received a call from member(s) of the Paterson FD who indicated that plaintiff was suicidal and/or that he was a danger to himself or others.
  • After plaintiff and his parents assured the officers of the absurdity of said report, the officers left plaintiffs home
  • On January 21, 2012 at approximately 10:00 a.m., plaintiff spoke with defendant Fleming about the Little Falls Police Officers coming to plaintiffs home earlier that morning.
  • Defendant Fleming advised that he notified the Little Falls Police Department because defendants Howe and Wesley, the very individuals that had been the main culprits in retaliating against plaintiff, of which defendants and especially Fleming were aware, had reported that plaintiff was suicidal and that plaintiff was a danger to himself and others.
  • Upon information and belief, said false report by defendants Howe and Wesley and the reporting of same by defendant Fleming to the Little Falls Police Department was contrived to cast doubt on the veracity of plaintiff’s valid complaints of continued retaliation.
  • Despite defendants being aware of defendants Howe and Wesley’s retaliation against plaintiff, and despite plaintiff’s assurances that any reports against him were false and constituted further retaliation, plaintiff was placed on paid administrative leave until further notice effective January 21, 2012.
  • After being notified of his paid administrative leave, plaintiff repeatedly asked for documentation of same and also documentation of said allegations by defendants Howe and Wesley. However, all such requests for documentation were igno
  • [On] June 19, 2013 [Connizzo] … was served by defendants with a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action charging him with “Inability to Perform Duties” and calling for his termination.
  • Plaintiff, through counsel, immediately requested a hearing and discovery related to his termination. However, all such requests have been completely ignored.
  • Upon information and belief, said Notice of Disciplinary Action is nothing more than pre-textual and in retaliation against plaintiff for raising an issue involving department misconduct and public safety.

 

 

Connizzo’s complaint alleged violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution actionable through 42 U.S.C. § 1983; conspiracy to violate civil rights; violations of the NJ state constitution; state law employment violations; wrongful discharge; intentional infliction of severe emotional distress; invasion of privacy; defamation; assault and battery; wrongful termination; and retaliation. His initial demand was $5 million on each of 16 counts.

 

The $80,000 settlement was approved by the Patterson City Council earlier this week.

 

Here is a copy of the complaint: Connizzo v Patterson

 

Here is more on the settlement.

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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