Federal Judge Issues Warning While Giving Town, Firefighter Until Thursday To Settle Lawsuit

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The town couldn’t meet an April 12 deadline to settle a firefighter’s lawsuit claiming that municipal officials for years failed to address abuse by a superior in the department, court documents show.

In requesting a third extension on behalf of both parties that day, an attorney for the firefighter noted that “[t]he plaintiff has signed off and delivered all documents necessary to resolve the matter, but the Town’s attorney advised plaintiff’s counsel this afternoon that it cannot sign off, complete its process and deliver its final documents until April 21, 2021.”

“The parties do not anticipate that there will be any further extensions requested,” Shelton-based attorney Michael Lynch of Lynch Law Group LLC said in a joint motion filed in U.S. District Court.

Though Judge Sarah A. L. Merriam agreed to extend the deadline for restoring the lawsuit to the docket to April 22, she wrote in her order, “The Court notes that the motion does not comply with Local Rule 7, which requires that any motion for extension of time be filed at least three business days in advance of the deadline.”

“The Court cautions counsel against assuming that the Court will generally be either able or willing to act on motions on such short notice in the future,” she said in the order.

Filed in April against the town, the suit seeks damages on behalf of John Aniello, a 42-year-old white male hired as a full-time firefighter in 2006, according to a nine-count complaint. It claims that a captain in the New Canaan Fire Department over the course of nearly one dozen years made overtly racist and homomisic comments to the firefighter, while singling him out through criticisms, quashing his bids for promotion and hampering his ability to earn wages through overtime. 

Aniello’s employment with the town ended Jan. 31, town officials have confirmed. Capt. Robert Petrone, who next month will mark 20 years with the Fire Department, is still employed, town officials have confirmed.

The town moved to dismiss parts of the lawsuit in June. After the two sides held settlement conferences in August, they reached a tentative agreement, though they’ve had to ask for multiple extensions.

In November, Lynch wrote the the parties “have been unable to satisfy all conditions” of a settlement.

“The essence of the delay is that to achieve full and final resolution of the matter, as intended by the parties, the plaintiff requires the participation and input of independent third parties over whom the plaintiff has no direct control,” Lynch said at the time. “The plaintiff has done his best to engage the necessary third parties in this process and obtain the required information from them, communicating with them on multiple occasions and outlining the roles of such third parties in the resolution process, but he has been unable to secure their timely participation and input as needed to comply with the terms of the resolution.”

The terms of the settlement under discussion are not clear. The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday is expected to discuss Aniello’s case in executive session. 

The town is represented by Stamford-based Ryan Ryan Deluca, LLP. 

According to the firefighter’s lawsuit, the captain nicknamed him ‘Toby’ or ‘Kunta Kinte,’ referring to the African slave from the movie “Roots,” and called him ‘Kunta Kinte’ or ‘Toby’ in the workplace on multiple occasions in the presence of others. He wrote the words ‘I love [racial slur in the plural]’ in large letters on the passenger side of the firefighter’s vehicle while it was parked in a Fire Department lot, according to the complaint, and the plaintiff drove it around town not knowing what was written there. In another instance, while the firefighter attended a fundraiser at the firehouse with his young minor son, captain approached them and said that ‘your son has a [expletive] sucking face just like his father’ and grabbed the Plaintiff’s minor son’s hand and said to the Plaintiff’s minor son: ‘I know you like penis,’ ” the complaint said. The captain “repeatedly mocked and insulted the Plaintiff, calling the Plaintiff ‘stupid,’ ‘retarded,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘[expletive] sucker,’ ‘incompetent,’ and ‘the department clown.’ [The captain] has also told the Plaintiff ‘I hope your kids are [homomisic slur in the plural],’ ” the complaint said.

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