Mass. city settles gender discrimination suit by female firefighter for $125K

Lawyers for the city had warned council members the settlement could go as high as $500,000 if the offer had not been accepted

Jeanette DeForge

CHICOPEE, Mass. — The city has agreed to settle a gender discrimination complaint filed by a former firefighter for $125,000, but not without some councilors airing concerns about how the issue was handled.

On the recommendation of city attorney Jack St. Clair and Mayor John L. Vieau, the City Council voted earlier this month to pay out the amount to Sarah Fisher, who filed the complaint with the state Commission Against Discrimination at least four years ago.

“We feel it is in the best interest of the city to settle,” Vieau said.

Vieau declined to disclose any information about the complaint, except to say it was filed before he took office in 2019. City lawyers refused to release information requested through the Freedom of Information Act about a closed-session meeting the City Council had on Aug. 2, citing attorney-client privilege even though the City Council approved the minutes on Sept. 20, essentially making them public.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, a state agency that enforces the commonwealth’s anti-discrimination laws, does not release information about complaints and Thomas A. Kenefick, the lawyer representing Fisher, declined to comment about the matter.

“We are requesting authority to settle the claims in litigation in the total amount of $125,000 as the amount proposed after a four-hour mediation session conducted on June 30, 2022,” St. Clair said in a memo to the City Council.

The City Council vote was 9-3 with several members saying they are concerned about multiple issues about the suit. They did not go into detail about what the issues are.

“I’m unhappy with the actions of the city,” City Councilor Delmarina Lopez said explaining why she voted against settling the complaint.

Lopez, who is also a lawyer, complained about a lack of transparency saying the questions she asked in executive session were not answered.

Councilor Mary-Elizabeth Pniak-Costello agreed and called on the city to address problems brought up in the complaint as soon as possible.

“I don’t agree with how the city handled this matter,” Councilor Derek Dobosz added.

But Councilor James K. Tillotson said their lawyers warned them if they did not settle now, a judgement against the city could be as much as $500,000.

Records from the Chicopee Retirement Board show Fisher was granted an accidental disability retirement in January 2021. The Board determined her annual pension would be about $49,000.

Fisher was injured on Oct. 29, 2017, while climbing into the driver-side cab of a fire truck. The board determined the injury made her “physically incapable of performing the essential duties of her job and that said incapacity is likely to be permanent,” according to meeting minutes.

It is unclear if the injury she suffered is related in any way to the complaint filed.


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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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