Amended Complaint Filed In Lawsuit Against Berlin

BERLIN — A long-time Berlin fire department supervisor accused of workplace harassment and discrimination filed an amended complaint against the town yesterday in Worcester County Circuit Court.

In May, the town terminated EMS supervisor Norris Phillip Donohue, Jr. after 23 years on the job after at least two EMS employees filed formal complaints about alleged workplace harassment and discrimination. The allegations of harassment and discrimination in the EMS department of the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) were cited as primary reasons for the town’s decision in August to pull all funding for the entire fire company. However, the BFC alleges the town’s decision to defund it was based on control of the scheduling and operations.

In July, Donohue filed a civil suit against the Mayor and Council, seeking at least $200,000 and alleging the elected officials, through Town Administrator Tony Carson, did not have the authority to terminate, or even discipline, him over allegations of harassment and discrimination. He said that authority wrested with his immediate supervisors, the fire chief and the fire company president.

It’s important to note Donohue’s lawsuit against the town of Berlin is mutually exclusive of the town’s ongoing dispute with the fire company, which is not a party in the case, but there is a rational nexus between the two issues. The BFC is merely an interested party on the sidelines in the suit.

In early October, a visiting Worcester County Circuit Court judge dismissed Donohoe’s lawsuit without prejudice, but granted the plaintiff 21 days to amend the complaint. Yesterday, 21 days to the day of the case dismissal in early October, Donohoe’s attorney Robin Cockey filed an amended complaint, which complaint follows the same basic facts as the original, but appears to emphasize the termination aspect of the case rather than the disciplinary actions. The amended complaint asserts the Mayor and Council had the authority to discipline “leased” employees under the agreement, but the authority to terminate wrested with the BFC hierarchy.

“The Mayor and Council violated those policies by suspending Mr. Donohoe without progressive discipline and by demoting him,” the amended complaint reads. “When Mr. Donohoe grieved the Mayor and Council’s actions, the Mayor and Council terminated his leased employment and then effectively and without justification ended Mr. Donohoe’s relationship with the fire department by coercing the fire department into acquiescing in his termination.”

While the lawsuit is mutually exclusive of the town’s decision to pull BFC’s funding, the amended complaint asserts Donohoe’s termination was the nexus for the decision.

“The Mayor and Council’s actions in all respects were taken by Mayor [Gee] Williams, the individual council members and Administrator [Tony] Carson unanimously and with the improper, malicious motive of exploiting Mr. Donohoe’s plight in order to dominate the fire department and/or deprive it of its funding,” the amended complaint reads. “Mr. Donohoe forwarded his grievance to the Mayor and Council and received no response other than the Mayor and Council making it clear to the fire department and Mr. Donohoe that it would withdraw its $500,000 in annual funding to the fire department if the fire department attempted to retain Mr. Donohoe as an employee. … The defendants, acting in a concerted and calculated effort with one another, have exploited Mr. Donohoe to accomplish their objective of cutting Berlin’s funding of the fire department.”