Former Paramedic’s Lawsuit Against BFC Dismissed

BERLIN – A judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed against the Berlin Fire Company by a former paramedic.

After months of inaction, a federal judge dismissed the case filed against the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) by Jeffrey Dean, a former BFC paramedic and firefighter. United States District Judge Ellen L. Hollander granted the BFC’s motion to dismiss the case, citing the fact that Dean didn’t file the lawsuit within 90 days of receiving a “right to sue” letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as was required.

Dean, represented by attorney James Otway, filed suit in September of 2017. The lawsuit alleged 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, a former BFC member who filed an $8 million lawsuit against the fire company in 2013. That case was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2015.

According to Dean’s lawsuit, he was assigned to be Tyndall’s partner by BFC leadership and subsequently learned of the harassment Tyndall had dealt with.

“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 read.

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.”

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. Eventually, while he was on medical leave in 2013, Dean was fired.

Dean filed suit last fall, more than 200 days after receiving a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC. Otway told the court that he’d been in contact with BFC attorneys, who had indicated a desire to resolve the dispute without litigation. Communication stopped in July, however, and Otway went on to file the suit in September.

Hollander wrote in her recent opinion that in spite of the BFC attorneys’ initial request for mediation, there had still been time to file a suit within the 90-day deadline.

“Assuming the truth of the defense request to plaintiff to withhold the filing of suit, pending mediation, that request was made once, when there were about 75 of the 90 days left for plaintiff to file a timely suit,” Hollander wrote. “Significantly, there is no suggestion by plaintiff that, in that one conversation with defense counsel, the defense asked plaintiff to withhold suit until after the filing deadline.”

According to Hollander Dean cited no communication with the defense counsel on which he relied to delay the filing of the suit until the filing deadline had passed.

“Moreover, no mediator was ever selected,” Hollander wrote. “No mediation was ever scheduled. In the many days that followed defense counsel’s request, defense counsel never even responded to the proposed mediators suggested by plaintiff’s attorney. Therefore, there is no basis in fact to support plaintiff’s claim that, in failing to file a timely suit, plaintiff reasonably relied on the prior request of defense counsel, asking plaintiff to delay the filing of suit.”

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.