May 202014

A complaint filed by a longtime Groton emergency medical services technician alleging harassment by three officers of the Groton Fire Department was found to be “unsubstantiated,” according to a media release read at the May 19 Board of Selectmen’s meeting by Chairman Peter Cunningham. Neither the woman who filed the complaint nor the command officers named in the complaint were identified by the Board of Selectmen.

According to the report produced by the town’s investigator, Corinne Hood Greene of Greene & Hafer Employment Law, her role “was to be that of a fact finder. My objective was to be impartial, precise and thorough.”

Greene was hired after the woman filed the complaint on February 22, 2014. Based on the heavily redacted report released by the selectmen and interviews with a number of anonymous fire department staff, and several town officials, there were a number of points of conflict between the EMT and one fire department officer in particular (although the complaint reportedly named three officers). They spanned a period of months, possibly more than a year, and included:

  • Not being considered for promotion.
  • Pay scale disagreements.
  • A “negative” attitude.
  • General departmentwide conflict between call and full time officers.
  • Repeated insistence on handling internal complaints only through the department chain of command.
  • Conflict over commands given, procedures followed, and equipment operation at a fire on Christmas Day, 2013.

The discussion about the points of conflict spilled over into emails, Facebook postings, and second and third-hand inter-firefighter reports of what other firefighters and officers reportedly said about the complainant.

Greene interviewed a number of witnesses and reviewed a number of internal reports and statements. Greene wrote that she found the administration had “taken action to address allegations relating to (the complainant’s) negative attitude” but they did “give rise to retaliation or harassment claims under the law or pursuant to the town’s policies.” She wrote in her report that in her opinion, “there is no valid claim for retaliation” and that the complaint does not meet the legal standards for harassment because “ is not alleging that any of the complained of conduct is because of a legally protected status.” Greene found that the “alleged conduct did not violate the Town’s code of conduct or personnel policies.” The report’s conclusion is: “I conclude that complaint alleging retaliation and/or harassment is unsubstantiated.”

Cunningham said that no changes in Fire Department staffing or organization would be the direct result of the investigation or report, but did point out that with a new fire chief potentially starting work in July, some changes are to be expected.