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News

Donohoe removed from lawsuit against fire company

9/26/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

BERLIN—An amended complaint filed against the Berlin Fire Company by a former paramedic and volunteer firefighter on Sept. 16, removed one plaintiff from a list individuals he had charged with either committing or failing to halt workplace harassment and intimidation.

The documents also added additional details about the allegations to an ongoing $8 million lawsuit.

In August Zachery Tyndall, named the fire company, its president, David Fitzgerald, current employee and Tyndall’s former emergency medical service supervisor Norris Phillip Donohoe Sr., volunteer fireman and Assistant Chief Derek Simpson and volunteer fireman and former Chief Bryon Trimble, in a federal lawsuit for their alleged roles in a campaign of sexual orientation-based harassment and intimidation.

Lead attorney James Otway, of the Salisbury firm Otway, Russo & Rommel, said during a Sept. 24 interview that Donohue had been removed from the list of plaintiffs in the amended documents.

Otway explained the reason. “From our perspective, his involvement was less than that of the others and we wanted to focus on those whom we believe were most culpable,” he said, adding that Donohue had been absent for some the period in which the abuse occurred.

The amended complaint also included detailed allegations of unwanted physical conduct by some of the individual who remained on the list.

Robin R. Cockey,of the Salisbury firm Cockey, Brennan & Maloney, P.C., had filed a motion to dismiss Tyndall’s complaint against Donohoe in the lawsuit on Sept. 3. Cockey had previously represented Donohoe in a $200,000 wrongful termination lawsuit against the Town of Berlin that employed him after he was relieved of his duties as Berlin’s Emergency Medical Services Supervisor in May 2012 because town officials had received multiple complaints of workplace harassment against members of his staff. In March, the Circuit Court for Worcester County dismissed that case by granting the town’s motion to dismiss an appeal of Donohoe’s claim.

In his motion to dismiss Donohoe from Tyndall’s lawsuit, Cockey made the legal arguments that supervisors were not individually liable for violations of Title VII; that Title VII does not provide protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; and that the complaint lacked any “factual allegations of “extreme and outrageous” conduct necessary to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Mr. Donohoe.”

As a result of the amended complaint, Cockey said Donohoe was “No longer a defendant and no longer being sued. We are pleased that he has been vindicated.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. In it, Tyndall has asked for $2 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages, along with legal costs and other expenses. He has also sought compensation for violations of his civil rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, for lost past and future wages, impairment of earning capacity, emotional distress, humiliation and past and future medical expenses and seeking punitive damages from the individuals for their alleged “willful, wanton, oppressive and malicious conduct.”

A second paramedic and firefighter, Jeff Dean, has also filed a claim against the fire company with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In it he has alleged being targeted for retaliatory harassment and intimidation that he said stemmed from his attempts to stand up for Tyndall, who was his work partner at the time, and others whom he said were being subjected to gender, racial and sexual orientation-based abuse.

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