NY Firefighter Sues Alleging FMLA Violation and Retaliation

A firefighter in Olean, New York has filed suit claiming he was discriminated and retaliated against for having taken leave for the birth of his son. Justin Melfi filed suit in US District Court for the Western District of New York on January 8, 2021 naming the City of Olean, Mayor William Aiello and Chief Tim Richardson.

Melfi claims he took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act starting on June 23, 1019 for the birth of his son. He alleges that when he returned, he somehow “lost his seniority” and “was constantly assigned the least desirable shift, the ambulance shift, while others were rotated.” He also claims the city improperly charged him vacation time while on FMLA leave.

Melfi brought his concerns through the chain of command, culminating in a contentious meeting with then Chief Robert Bell on October 23, 2019. According to the complaint, the meeting turned into a disagreement with “Chief Bell treat[ing] the FMLA approved leave taken by Complainant as an unexcused absence.”

The meeting also led to disciplinary charges against Melfi. He was placed on administrative leave on October 28, 2019, and later given a notice of the department’s intent to terminate. In January, 2020, Mayor Aiello placed him on unpaid disciplinary leave, prompting Melfi to appeal. Melfi also filed a complaint with the Department of Labor. He subsequently returned to duty October 23, 2020.

The lawsuit alleges two counts, “FMLA interference” and retaliation under the FMLA. Here is a copy of the 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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