BERLIN – “I no longer had a name.”
That’s what former Berlin paramedic Zackery Tyndall told lawyers when he was asked how often he was called gay by members of the Berlin Fire Company. And it didn’t stop there. Tyndall alleges that he was criticized for the clothes he wore, the food he ate and was even touched inappropriately during his several years with the Berlin Fire Company (BFC). When he complained about the way he had been treated, the abuse only got worse.
“They would constantly make comments about my hair, my clothing, the way I ate, the way I carried myself in general, the vehicle I drove, how well I can decorate my home, the home I live in, the way that my relationship is with my mother,” Tyndall said during a deposition.
In 2013, Tyndall filed an $8 million lawsuit against the Berlin Fire Company. On July 16, a federal judge ruled against a motion to dismiss filed by the lawyers representing the fire company and members Bryon Trimble and Derrick Simpson.
“The federal court ruled in our favor,” said Jim Otway, Tyndall’s attorney. “The case is going to go forward.”
U.S. District Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander denied the motion to dismiss in spite of the defendants’ arguments that what occurred was just “horseplay” and that much of what Tyndall alleged took place long enough ago that it wasn’t within the time period in question.
In a more-than 60-page ruling, Hollander outlines Tyndall’s allegations, the fire company’s response and the court’s interpretation of the arguments made so far.
According to the ruling, Tyndall reportedly began experiencing abuse in 2007, when he was still in high school. He alleges he was constantly called “gay boy,” “homo,” and the like by members of the Berlin Fire Company (BFC).
“They started calling me gay after a dance we had,” reads a portion of Tyndall’s deposition included in the ruling. “There was a woman that offered to have sex with me after the prom, and she was intoxicated, and I did not have sex with her. And they had the assumption that I was gay because I did not have sex with her.”
Tyndall also describes the “game” of “Bangkok,” during which he would be hit in the groin by various members of the fire company.
In February 2012, Tyndall reported his colleagues’ conduct to Town of Berlin officials. Though they made disciplinary recommendations, Tyndall said things got worse for him at the fire house.
On Dec. 26, 2012, Tyndall and other members of the Berlin Fire Company responded to a car accident on Route 50. After extricating an injured passenger from the vehicle, members of the fire company allegedly refused to help Tyndall with the individual.
“He recalls asking numerous other BFC members for help along the way but received only stares from most of them …,” Hollander’s opinion states. “Eventually, a state trooper helped Tyndall connect an oxygen tank to a ventilation bag …, two BFC cadets helped him move the passenger into an ambulance … and a Berlin police officer drove the ambulance to the hospital while Tyndall worked with the passenger in the back.”
Tyndall reported the incident to his superiors at the fire company later that same day. A month later, he was fired.
For the record, in January 2013, an investigation by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) found there was no delay of services following the accident and that the BFC members on the scene fully achieved state emergency requirements. Dr. Richard Alcorta, state EMS Medical Director, took point on the investigation.
During the investigation, MIEMSS agents conducted 48 interviews with 26 people, checked related medical records as well as conducted a multi-panel medical review.
In his letter with the report, Alcorta cleared the BFC of any lack of service or misbehavior following the accident. MIEMSS findings fall in line with what the company predicted since the investigation began, noted BFC President David Fitzgerald at that time.
“We’re very pleased and it’s what we expected,” he said.
However, Alcorta warned the company and the town that the hostilities and budget battle between the two parties is jeopardizing safety in Berlin.
According to Alcorta, “significant underlying tensions surrounding the delivery of emergency medical services in Berlin have the potential to impact patient care and must be addressed.” In trying to resolve the months of hostility, Alcorta recommended that the BFC, Town Council, and Worcester County EMS “engage in meaningful efforts” to clear the air.
According to court documents, the defendants Tyndall has identified don’t deny much of what he alleges but claim that it was just teasing.
“Defendants do not expressly dispute most of Tyndall’s allegations concerning his coworker’s conduct,” Hollander’s opinion reads. “Instead, they provide a bullet-point list of his allegations … and characterize them as ‘teasing and horseplay.’”
BFC members also report that Tyndall would call himself names jokingly, even answering his phone by stating “Homo Anonymous.”
Hollander concluded that the teasing that Tyndall engaged in was not as constant as that which he was subjected to.
“Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, as I must, it appears that Tyndall engaged in horseplay in the firehouse but it was much less frequent; not as nasty as that of the defendants; and it was in response to or prompted by defendants’ conduct,” the judge’s opinion reads.
In the lawsuit, Tyndall claims the years of harassment he experienced as a member of the fire company resulted in emotional distress, anxiety and depression. In spite of his claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the fire company argues that Tyndall participated in the same teasing and horseplay that he eventually complained about.
Tyndall, however, states that the abuse he alleges occurred during a period of years and was instigated by men nearly twice his age who were in supervisory positions.
In her decision not to grant the motion to dismiss the case, Hollander writes, “Indeed, the allegations, if proven, are more extreme and outrageous than most other cases that have come before this District.”
A trial date for the case has not yet been set but Tyndall’s lawyers expect it to take place during the next six to nine months.
Fitzgerald did not return a phone call before press time Thursday seeking comment on the latest court development.