Berlin Fire Company Subject Of Second Harassment Lawsuit

BERLIN – A former paramedic has filed a $500,000 lawsuit alleging discrimination and harassment against the Berlin Fire Company.

Two years after an $8 million harassment case against the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) was settled, a second lawsuit has been initiated by Jeffrey Dean, a former BFC paramedic and firefighter.

The case, filed by attorney James Otway Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court, alleges that the fire company violated the protections put forth by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees — and claims that Dean was a victim of harassment and retaliation for his support of Zack Tyndall, the former BFC member — now a Town of Berlin councilman —who filed the initial harassment case against the organization.

According to the 16-page lawsuit, Dean was hired by the fire company in 2005 and had a clean disciplinary record when he was assigned to work as Tyndall’s partner in 2011. BFC leaders reportedly told Dean “that Tyndall was reassigned to work with him because Tyndall had been complaining a lot and causing trouble and leadership wanted Dean to teach him to ‘keep his mouth shut.’”

The lawsuit states that though Dean had already witnessed incidents of harassment committed by several members of BFC leadership, during the ensuing months Tyndall told him about his own experiences.

“Tyndall and Dean discussed the atmosphere of harassment and discrimination at the Berlin Fire Company and over time Tyndall related that he had been subject to years of non-consensual physical contact, harassment, retaliation and discrimination …,” the lawsuit reads. Much of it related to Tyndall’s perceived sexual orientation. According to the lawsuit, several BFC leaders thought Tyndall was gay and called him a variety of derogatory names and even groped him.

When complaints to fire company leadership failed to end the harassment, Tyndall took his complaints to Berlin Town Hall. Dean accompanied him and provided a statement as to what he’d witnessed.

“Dean’s support of Tyndall had an immediate effect in the way he was treated by leadership,” the lawsuit reads. “Harassment that had previously been reserved to Tyndall was now expanded to include Dean. Dean, who had never been disciplined for anything, began to be chastised for minuscule matters and was written up for formal discipline for manufactured offenses or for something so minor as letting leaves blow into the engine bay of the firehouse.”

The lawsuit alleges that the harassment continued with the “knowledge, consent and active participation” of BFC leadership and began to take a toll on Dean’s health by the fall of 2012.

“He found himself increasingly unable to deal with the stress…,” the lawsuit states. “He would become nauseous and would have anxiety attacks. He also developed severe reflux which eventually progressed to acute esophagitis with a structure, which prevented him from swallowing…and required an endoscopy procedure.”

Dean was reportedly on medical leave until January 2013. According to the lawsuit, BFC President David Fitzgerald told him he’d have to have a psychological evaluation before he returned. When a psychiatrist had deemed Dean fit for duty, Fitzgerald allegedly told him he’d have to go through training in Talbot County first, in spite of the fact that he’d in the past trained and evaluated EMS students at a local college.

On April 4, 2013, within days of completing that training, Dean was driving with his son when their vehicle was struck by a drunk driver. Dean suffered multiple injuries and, as advised by his doctor, told Fitzgerald he wouldn’t be able to return to work until May 14, 2013. The lawsuit claims Dean received written notice he’d been fired shortly after that.

The complaint goes into significant detail on a number of incidents of harassment Dean says occurred in which other individuals were the victims. There’s also reference to an April 2017 residential fire alarm at Tyndall’s home.

“Tyndall was away on vacation, when Tyndall’s residential fire alarm went off, triggering a call for fire and EMS response to Tyndall’s home,” the lawsuit reads. “No volunteers arrived, no fire apparatus responded. Dean eventually went to Tyndall’s home and found there to be no fire present.”

Tyndall’s case against the fire company, which was also handled by Otway, was settled for an undisclosed amount in October 2015.

Attempts to reach Fitzgerald were unsuccessful on Monday. Berlin Mayor Gee Williams declined to comment because he was unaware of the most recent lawsuit.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.