A federal judge on Tuesday denied the town’s motion to extend for a second time the date by which it must respond to a New Canaan firefighter’s lawsuit claiming municipal officials failed to address years of verbal abuse by a superior.
A captain in the New Canaan Fire Department over the course of nearly one dozen years made overtly racist and homophobic comments to the plaintiff, while singling him out through criticisms, quashing his bids for promotion and hampering his ability to earn wages through overtime, according to a complaint now before U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant.
The town is named as defendant in the nine-count complaint, which says a number of municipal officials failed to take seriously or address the problem. The plaintiff is a white man who was hired in 2006 as a full-time firefighter, according to the complaint.
The town on April 21 had put in for an initial Motion for Extension of Time to file a responsive pleading—and that was granted, through June 15.
On Monday, the town sought an additional 15-day extension through a second motion (embedded below). In that motion, attorneys representing the town noted that the complaint is more than 30 pages and “alleges a complex fact pattern.”
“Because of the volume of allegations and the nature of the claims the plaintiff purports to allege, the Defendant requires additional time to investigate in order to properly respond to the Complaint,” said the motion, filed by attorneys Claire Ryan and Jonathan Zellner of Stamford-based Ryan Ryan Deluca LLP. They could not be reached for comment.
In her order denying the motion, Bryant said, “Defendant does not explain why it is unable to meet the current deadline, as previously extended.”
The New Canaan Town Clerk received the civil summons and complaint March 16, according to a stamped copy of the document obtained by NewCanaanite.com.
Bryant noted that date and added that the town “had prior notice of Plaintiff’s allegations from the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities proceeding. Additional time to investigate the allegations is unwarranted.” She referred to a state agency charged with preventing illegal discrimination in employment, among other areas. The CHRO in December authorized the plaintiff to commence civil action in Superior Court.
In the complaint, filed by Shelton-based attorney Michael Lynch of Lynch Law Group LLC, the plaintiff describes incidents that started at the time of the captain’s own promotion in 2007 where racial and homophobic slurs were used to deride, humiliate and otherwise abuse him. The complaint claims discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, negligence, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other counts.
Asked about the case, Lynch told NewCanaanite.com, “We stand behind everything that is in the complaint. It has been a difficult situation for many years in that department and I think the the allegations in the complaint highlight the reasons why it has been a difficult place to work.”
He added, “My client has tried in many different ways to bring the issues that are set forth in the complaint to the town administrators and he has not gotten any satisfaction or relief necessary to correct the problems in the department. So the complaint was filed to address those problems.”
According to the lawsuit, various paid and volunteer officials overseeing the department brushed aside, ignored or otherwise failed to address the hostile work environment, even after the captain began to retaliate against his subordinate for raising the problems. One official told the firefighter he needed to “grow a thicker skin,” according to the complaint, while others said the Fire Department “is not supposed to have snowflakes” and that the situation “looked bad” for the town.
The plaintiff is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
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