Philadelphia Firefighter Claims His Officer Harassed Him After He Suffered a Heart Attack

A Philadelphia firefighter who claims he was harassed and bullied by his officer after returning to duty following a heart attack has filed suit claiming disability discrimination and retaliation. Perry Lawrynkiewicz filed suit in US District Court claiming violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and the City of Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance.

The suit names the city, Lieutenant Richard Brown, Captain James Stinson, and Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel as defendants. Lawrynkiewicz suffered a heart attack in March of 2019. After recuperating he was cleared to return to full duty in September, 2019. That is when his problems reportedly began. Quoting from the complaint:

  • On or about October 28, 2019, Lieutenant Brown, Plaintiff’s direct superior and supervisor, wrote a scathing, untrue, discriminatory and damaging employment review about Plaintiff directly related to Plaintiff’s disability. In the false review, Lt. Brown referred to Plaintiff’s medical history and condition, which he published and disseminated to other non-administrative personnel. This review contained statements such as:
    • “I understand that your medical condition has caused you to stare your mortality in the eye, but maybe its [sic] time to decide being a firefighter is not the direction you want to pursue . . . . [M]yself and your peers have begun to lose confidence in your ability to perform at maximum efficiency in an actual emergency . . . . I am looking for the minimum standards associated with being an average Firefighter . . . . It has been my goal every day to inspire members I work with to achieve these standards, but it is obvious that you have not grasped these qualities . . . .”
  • This review unfairly and unlawfully targeted Plaintiff’s disability, record of disability, and/or perceived disability as a basis for his supposed employment shortcomings. Plaintiff was singled-out by Lt. Brown because of his disability and made the target of a slanderous review meant to cause Plaintiff reputational and vocational harm.
  • In addition to the harm inherent to this document, Lt. Brown then distributed it so that it was seen by all members of the Fire Department in violation of Plaintiff’s medical and personal privacy and Fire Department directives. He even left a copies [sic] of this report out in the open at the station so anyone could see and read it.
  • Lt. Brown’s superior, Battalion Chief Dennis Philipp (“Chief Philipp”), notified Plaintiff that this performance review was being inappropriately circulated. Plaintiff informed Chief Philipp that he wanted to make an official complaint with the Fire Department due to Lt. Brown’s behavior, which was done by Chief Philipp in late October 2019.
  • On or about November 1, 2019, Lt. Brown created a revised performance report for Plaintiff which eliminated reference to his medical condition and disability but, in substance, was the same as his original inaccurate evaluation of Plaintiff’s qualities and abilities.
  • On or about November 17, 2019, Lt. Brown called Plaintiff into his office to give him the revised, but still false, performance report. In this meeting, Lt. Brown said that the report meant “nothing” and he did not know why Plaintiff was so “up in arms” about it. Plaintiff incredulously asked Lt. Brown how the report meant “nothing” and then refused to sign the revised evaluation. Lt. Brown also stated that he was not worried about Plaintiff’s official complaint against him regarding the original report and informed Plaintiff that he could have added additional negative things about Plaintiff’s performance, but did not.
  • Over the next several weeks, Plaintiff was subjected to harassment, bullying, hostility, and other discriminatory behavior from Lt. Brown and others in the Fire Department, which caused Plaintiff to experience severe anxiety and impacted his mental, emotional, and psychological well-being.
  • Lt. Brown’s false and damaging reviews were eventually withdrawn and replaced by Chief Philipp shortly after the creation of Lt. Brown’s revised report with a new and accurate review that called Plaintiff a “vital asset.” However, this corrected and truthful report was never disseminated to the other Platoons who had received Lt. Brown’s original false and damaging report.
  • In November or December of 2019, Chief Philipp informed Plaintiff that he had spoken to a Deputy Chief in the Fire Department about Lt. Brown’s behavior. Chief Philipp relayed that this Deputy Chief said that Lt. Brown should not be assigned to same station as Plaintiff anymore.
  • Further, it was communicated to Plaintiff that Lt. Brown would be subject to disciplinary action and transferred as a result of his discriminatory review and harassing conduct thereafter. However, no such action was taken by the Department at this time.
  • Despite being assured that he would not have to work with Lt. Brown again due to his behavior, on or about December 26, 2019, Lt. Brown was assigned to be Plaintiff’s commanding officer.
  • On or about February 27, 2020, Lt. Brown was again scheduled as Plaintiff’s commanding officer and Plaintiff was forced to work under him. During a medical run, as Plaintiff was approaching the address for the call, Lt. Brown yelled at Plaintiff that the address was down the street. Plaintiff explained he was slowing down to avoid a tree limb that was hanging over the street.
  • Back at the station, Lt. Brown continued to reprimand Plaintiff in front of the entire platoon, saying “You need to take it easy in front of everybody.” When Plaintiff asked what Lt. Brown meant by that, Lt. Brown said Plaintiff missed their target address by a block. Plaintiff again explained that he slowed down to avoid a tree limb, but Lt. Brown proceeded to mock and laugh at Plaintiff.
  • On or about March 6, 2020, Captain Philipp informed Plaintiff that the Fire Department’s special investigation office was bringing Lt. Brown to their office the following week regarding the defamatory and discriminatory false review and that Lt. Brown was made aware of that fact. Additionally, Lt. Brown was informed that his overtime was to be earned at another station than Engine 58. Moments later, Lt. Brown walked by Plaintiff and said, “You are a mouse of a man.” Plaintiff did not engage Lt. Brown. Rather, Chief Philipp asked Plaintiff to memorialize what happened in a memorandum, which Plaintiff did. Chief Philipp then sent Plaintiff’s memo to a Deputy Chief.
  • At the end of that same day, Captain Jim Stinson of the Fire Department approached Plaintiff at his locker as he was getting ready to leave. In front of other firefighters, Captain Stinson asked, “Is there going to be a problem with you when Lt. Brown works overtime with you for the whole next year that he is here?” Captain Stinson said he had been receiving calls all day from Lt. Brown about Plaintiff. Captain Stinson then mocked Plaintiff by saying, “Are you going to run to the Chief all the time that we have Lt. Brown working with you?” When Plaintiff tried to defend himself, Captain Stinson began criticizing Plaintiff’s on-the-job performance, claiming untrue things in a further attempt to bully and/or intimidate Plaintiff. As Captain Stinson was mocking and maliciously taunting Plaintiff, Chief Philipp came out and ordered Captain Stinson into his office.
  • Despite the fact that the Fire Department investigated and charged Lt. Brown with violations of department directives, the only disciplinary action taken against Lt. Brown by the Fire Department for his months-long discrimination and harassment of Plaintiff was a 24-hour suspension.
  • Even after Lt. Brown’s suspension, the Fire Department continued to schedule Lt. Brown as Plaintiff’s commanding officer on multiple shifts, forcing Plaintiff to volunteer to be detailed to another station to avoid being bullied, humiliated, and harassed by Lt. Brown and others, including Captain Stinson.
  • As a result of the severe and pervasive discrimination, hostility, and retaliation Plaintiff was subjected to by Lt. Brown, Captain Stinson, and others in the Fire Department, and the City and Department’s own deliberate indifference towards such conduct, Plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer severe emotional stress, mental anguish, anxiety, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of life’s pleasures, both past and future, and other psychological injuries, as well as physical manifestations of his psychological injuries as a result of Defendants’ actions and inactions.
  • On December 8, 2020, Plaintiff filed a timely complaint of disability discrimination and retaliation against the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Fire Department with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC).
  • In January of 2021, after the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Fire Department received Plaintiff’s PHRC complaint, Lt. Brown was finally transferred out of Plaintiff’s station.
  • Shockingly, in the fall of 2021, on information and belief, Captain Stinson instructed another lieutenant, Lt. Joseph Fyke, to write a performance review for Plaintiff and then egregiously forge Plaintiff’s signature without ever showing Plaintiff the report or providing him a copy of it. This matter was investigated by the Human Resources office of the Fire Department and it was confirmed that Plaintiff’s signature was forged.
  • Unlawful retaliation against Plaintiff meant to cause him emotional, reputational and vocational harm therefore continued even after the commencement of Plaintiff’s PHRC complaint against the Defendants.

Lawrynkiewicz remains employed as a firefighter. Besides disability discrimination, the complaint includes a count of intention infliction of emotional distress. 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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