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News

Harassment claims filed by 2nd Paramedic

9/5/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

BERLIN—A second former paramedic has filed a discrimination claim against the Berlin Fire Company, according to document that was filed with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights on April 22 and is awaiting response.

In the complaint, Jeffrey Dean, of Salisbury, said he had worked as a paramedic and firefighter with the company since October 2005. During that time, his work performance was deemed satisfactory in uations, he said.

According to his complaint, that changed in September 2011, when he corroborated allegations of harassment by his work partner, Zackery Tyndall, who had filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission alleging harassment and discrimination.

“I also reported to the Town of Berlin Human Resources Department and Town Administrator the racial and sexual harassment I witnessed against some of the employees. Although an investigation was conducted by the Town of Berlin, which corroborated my witness testimony, the hostile work environment and harassment continued,” Dean said in his filing.

Tyndall, also a former paramedic and volunteer fireman, on Aug. 27 filed a civil rights lawsuit in excess of $8 million against the Berlin Volunteer Fire Company and several of its current and former leaders for their alleged roles in a campaign of sexual orientation-based harassment and intimidation.

He filed a similar complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In a June 20 notice, EEOC officials said it had closed the case file because they were unable to conclude that violations of federal statutes occurred.

The notice of dismissal, however, allowed Tyndall to proceed with his lawsuit by granting him a 90-day window to sue under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, in either federal or state court. It also allowed him to pursue up to three years of back pay.

Dean said, depending on the response from EEOC officials, he is considering litigation, too.

Because he got involved with Tyndall’s quandary, Dean said he was, “subjected to threats of physical violence, a hostile work environment, threats of termination and blatant retaliatory reprimands and disciplinary actions.”

“I was constantly told by supervisors to make Mr. Tyndall ‘shut up,’” Dean said in his complaint.

He also said during the spring and summer of 2012, both Dean and Tyndall were shunned and isolated by management officials and other personnel in the fire department.

Dean’s allegations suggested that the harassment was sanctioned by the hierarchy of the company. Bryon Trimble, then chief of the Berlin Fire Company and the subject of Tyndall’s complaint, “was forced to resign as Chief by the Town of Berlin, which promised to withhold funding if he did not step down,” Dean said, “but he is still a member of the company and is eligible to run for chief again in December 2013.”

Dean further alleged that in August 2012, Mark Brown was elected chief to replace Trimble “and vowed to see me and Zack fired or suspended for ‘starting all this’ and for ‘going outside of the family’.”

The workplace stress took a toll on his health, Dean’s complaint said. After a fourth reprimand for minor things in four weeks, he said his physician placed him on medical leave for depression and anxiety.

“On Jan. 21, 2013, she cleared me medically but the fire company refused to let me come back to work,” he said. “They placed me on administrative leave with very little contact with my current supervisors, Chief Mark Brown and President David Fitzgerald. They made me go through a month-long field assessment in Talbot County, more than an hour and fifteen minutes from my home, on 12-hour shifts four consecutive days a week.”

That kept Dean from seeing his son for nearly three weeks, he said.

Dean told the state officials, “They also made me go to three psychological examinations — the first psychiatrist ultimately refused to participate because he said it was illegal, (and) the second declared me fit for duty but they still didn't return me to work.”

“I have been ordered to go through a draconian, intimidating process designed to make me quit,” he said. After completing the assignment, the company did not contact him about returning to work.

On April 4, 2013, Dean sustained serious injuries after a drunk driver ran a stop sign and hit his car and was hospitalized, he said.

“I sent them (my supervisors) two different copies of my medical clearance from two different doctors, excusing me from work for four weeks due to the injuries I sustained in the accident,” he said. “I received no response from my supervisors to these notes.”

On April 22, in a letter attached to an email, Dean said that company president Fitzgerald wrote, "The Company cannot wait nearly a month, until May 14, 2013, to have you return to paramedic duty as we need someone as soon as possible. Thus, your separation from employment with the Berlin Fire Company will be effective immediately." 

The supervisors “had me out on paid administrative leave with almost no communication since Jan. 21, 2013 after I had already expressed a desire and ability to return to work,” Dean said.

“This termination will leave me with diminished or no medical coverage in the face of months of medical bills from the accident,” he said.

 

August 25, 2013

Mayor and Council of Berlin

10 William Street Berlin, MD 21811

Dear Mayor and Council:

The current financial situation caused by the Mayor and Council's defunding of the fire company and emergency medical services effective July 1, 2012 has left the fire company unable to continue to perform safely, effectively, and efficiently its fire, rescue, and emergency medical services to the residents of the Town of Berlin.

Of paramount importance are the safety of our volunteer members and the protection of the community. We have recently experienced several mechanical truck failures; the most serious a brake failure on a fire engine responding to the scene.

Additionally, volunteer members do not have the appropriate personal protective gear and are concerned of their safety while entering dangerous situations. These are only two of many operational issues the defunding has caused. Additionally, the fire company is unable to plan its future public safety and business operations due to the uncertainty of the financial support from the Town of Berlin.

The fire company has provided over the last several months much information that was requested by the Town regarding finances, calls for service, and membership information. The Town's accountant (Mr. John Stern) has advised the fire company accountant (Mr. Jay Bergey) that he concluded the following: 1.) the fire company's budget and expenses are proper and in order when compared to other fire companies he represents. 2.) Reserve funds are not overfunded or excessive and are necessary to operate the fire company in a prudent manner 3.) The Town of Berlin has the obligation to provide public safety services to its residents and the fire company is fulfilling that function 4.) The Town would have a much larger expense to provide the same level of service Berlin Fire Company is providing should they wish to create their own fire, rescue, and emergency medical services department. 5.) The Town needs to fund the fire company for their services. We are advised these findings have been reported to Mayor Williams by Mr. John Stern.

By virtue of the fact that all additional information has been provided to the town and the fire, rescue, and emergency medical services operating budget have been reviewed and cleared by the Town's accountant, and shown the fire company's past requests and expenditures as well current requests are real and urgent, there is absolutely no reason to continue to withhold funding which is vital to the safe and efficient operation of the services provided by the fire company to protect the citizens' of the town.

Failure to promptly respond by immediately revising the budget to fund the fire company's requested amounts leaves the volunteers of the company no choice but to decide whether to continue to risk their own health and safety, and indeed our lives for the services of the town or decide to proceed with providing these services only to Worcester County residents outside of the corporate limits of the Town of Berlin as funded by the Worcester County Commissioners. This would leave the Mayor and Council to provide these services directly to the town residents as you have the legal obligation to the citizens to provide such services. At our meeting with Mayor Williams and Councilpersons Purnell and Burrell, they stated upon receipt of the accountant's findings, emergency meetings would be scheduled to return the funding to the fire company.

You will find attached for your quick reference the funding requested by the fire company for the past two years and a disbursement schedule.

In conclusion, there has been for some time and now reinforced with your own accountant's review, absolutely no reasons or excuses for the Mayor and Council to withhold funding to from the volunteers who have provided and are continuing to provide these vital public safety services to its residents. For the unpaid volunteers to continue to provide their services for which absolutely no funding is being provided by the Town is detrimental to our safety, well being and our desire to provide efficient and effective fire, rescue, and emergency medical services to the Town residents. It is thus NOT the decision of the fire company, but that of the Mayor and Council as to whether the lives and property of the citizens of the Town will continue to be protected by the Berlin Fire Company.

Mayor Williams should contact President Fitzgerald by Tuesday morning, August 27, 2013 to advise of the Mayor and Council's decision regarding funding the fire company.

Sincerely, David A. Fitzgerald President

Attachment 1

Marc Brown Fire Chief

John Holloway Board of Directors, Chairperson

Requested Budget Fiscal Year 2013-2014

Fire Company– $342,000

To be paid September 1, 2013—$85,500 (July, August, September monthly payments). Monthly payments of $28,500 payable the first day of each month.

 Emergency Medical Services – $225,000

To be paid September 1, 2013 – $112,500

To be paid December 1, 2013 – $112,500

Requested Budget Fiscal Year 2012-2013

Fire Company – $342,000

Emergency Medical Services – $225,000

$567,000 to be paid in full by December 31, 2013  

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