Trending Topics

3 Mass. firefighters sue city, fire commission over alleged retaliation

The Westfield crewmembers say they were fired for reporting allegations of sexual harassment by the chief; city attorneys say they broke rules

westfield fire terminations overturned story logo stock

Photo/City of Westfield

By Luis Fieldman

WESTFIELD, Mass. —Three firefighters in the Westfield Fire Department are suing the city and its fire commission, alleging retaliation after being terminated in 2019. Last year, the state ordered the city to rescind the three firefighter’s terminations and found that they engaged in lawful work activity when they cooperated with a Massachusetts State Police investigation into then-Deputy Chief Patrick Egloff.

The plaintiffs — Captain Rebecca Boutin and firefighters Kyle Miltimore and David Kennedy — allege that they were fired in retaliation for reporting allegations of sexual harassment by now-Fire Chief Egloff to state police. Attorneys for the city and fire commissioners argue that the three firefighters were “terminated because of violations of the rules, regulations, and operating procedures of the Westfield Fire Department,” according to court documents.

Boutin, Miltimore and Kennedy are currently employed with the fire department, a city official confirmed with MassLive on Monday. In November, the state Department of Labor Relations upheld a previous order issued to the city to reinstate the firefighters after the city’s fire commission had decided to terminate them in December 2019 based on an investigation conducted by a private attorney appointed by city officials.

A trial for the case is set for April 4, 2023, in Hampden Superior Court.

The attorney for the three firefighters, Maurice Chillane, did not return a request for comment.

In early 2018, members of the Westfield Fire Department, including Kennedy, met at Miltimore’s home to discuss allegations that Egloff had inappropriately touched two female hospital employees and one department employee during a 2016 St. Patrick’s Day parade in a neighboring town, according to court documents. Boutin had also reportedly attempted to discuss her concerns about Egloff with then-Fire Chief May Regan, but Regan declined to speak with Boutin.

Egloff, Mayor Michael McCabe and members of the city’s Fire Commission did not return requests for comment.

After the meeting at his home, Miltimore discussed his concerns with a Massachusetts State Police officer and asked what he should do, court documents state. Shortly after, a state trooper from the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office called Miltimore and set up a meeting to learn more about what Miltimore knew and told him that an investigation into the allegations against Egloff was underway.

As state police began interviewing potential witnesses, and other members of the Westfield Fire Department learned about the investigation, Miltimore claims he became ostracized within the department as another deputy fire chief told firefighters not to speak with cooperating witnesses.

On February 22, 2018, city officials received an anonymous letter signed by the “Westfield firefighters” that repeated the allegations. The letter further accused Egloff of engaging in workplace misconduct and unprofessional behavior, including acting in a “gross sexual manner verbally and physically” to department employees and pulling employees’ hair, according to a report issued by the Department of Labor Relations.

Meanwhile, state police closed the investigation on Feb. 28, 2018, based on a “lack of cooperative victims and no charges sought or brought forward in the case,” according to court documents.

After receiving the letter, city officials hired attorney Dawn McDonald to investigate the allegations, who issued a report in August 2018 finding that some of the allegations against Egloff were true, including that he had sexually assaulted a hospital nurse during the parade, pulled employees’ hair, made a sexually crude comment to a crew of firefighters about then- Chief Regan, and publicly screamed and swore at Boutin over giving away Thanksgiving dinners, an incident later described as “Pie-Gate,” according to the Department of Labor Relations.

The report by McDonald, however, also concluded that the three firefighters be terminated for not following the chain of command with their accusation against Egloff, and that they made the allegations in bad faith and had conspired to discredit Egloff’s reputation and prevent his imminent promotion to chief of the department.

The Board of Fire Commissioners agreed with the investigator’s recommendations and after a two-day hearing, terminated all three firefighters in December 2019.

In 2020, the union representing the firefighters filed a prohibited practice charge with the Department of Labor Relations alleging that the city had terminated the three firefighters for engaging in protected, concerted activity under Massachusetts law. A hearing officer ordered the city to reinstate Boutin, Kennedy and Miltimore and pay them back for lost benefits in wages.

The city lost on appeal in November.

The firefighters are seeking compensation for damages for what they describe as retaliation for reporting sexual harassment; discrimination based on reporting allegations of sexual assault and harassment; being threatened and intimidated for cooperating in a state police investigation; and violations of public policy.

The lawsuit also named fire commissioners Albert Masciadrelli, Patrick Olearcek, Carlo Bonavita, C. Lee Bennett, and Jeffrey Siegel as defendants.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.