EAST GREENWICH, RI — The town continues to face legal disputes, most recently with several claims made against the council and town manager, and a law suit filed on Friday by the East Greenwich Firefighters’ Association.
The council and town manager Gayle Corrigan have been involved in multiple legal suits, allegations and claims over the last several months involving Open Meetings Act violations, unfair employee termination cases and verbal threats. Most recently, the EGFFA Local 3328 President Lt. William Perry filed a suit against the municipality on March 23 alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), making it the third lawsuit between the town and the firefighters union within the last year.
According to a release issued by attorney for the EGFFA Elizabeth Wiens, the suit alleges that the town failed and refused to properly compensate firefighters for overtime owed under the FLSA.
“We have been trying to get answers from the finance director for months now regarding what we believe are errors in how the town is calculating our FLSA overtime pay,” said EGFFA President Perry in a statement. “We have been stonewalled. Last month I sent an e-mail to Linda Dykeman saying that if we do not get answers we would have no choice but to ask the court to intervene.”
According to Perry, the town was previously paying the firefighters what they believe to be “the wrong amount,” however they are currently not getting paid FLSA overtime at all. The firefighters are pushing to get payment for overtime that was withheld at the time the work was done. According to Wiens, employees can only obtain back pay for a period of two years prior to filing a lawsuit, or three years if the employer willfully violated the law.
“Every day we wait for the town to provide us with answers is a day that firefighters are losing out on back pay,” she said. “While we have filed the lawsuit to preserve the member’s rights, we remain willing to sit down with the town to discuss any and all issues.”
In addition, the council considered three separate claims during their last two meetings in March made by members of the fire department and the former assistant to the town manager. The claims are presented to the council seeking resolution, with the potential to become lawsuits if they are not handled.
The first claim considered by the council on March 12 was filed by East Greenwich firefighter James Perry, alleging that he was terminated from his position with the fire department in retaliation of his family members actions. Both James Perry’s brother and sister-in-law were involved with legal disputes with the town.
In addition, the claim alleges that the town terminated James Perry on a “false and pretextual” basis, and because of his age. It also alleges that once able to return to work, James Perry was prevented from doing so by town manager Corrigan, in what James Perry’s attorney calls “blatant retaliation” for his participating in a previous lawsuit against the town.
“The town and all its agents involved in this matter are jointly and severally liable for the damages caused by their illegal actions against Mr. Perry,” said James Perry’s attorney Chip Muller in the claim. “Mr. Perry demands that the town pay him $185,000 to compensate him for lost pay, damage to his personal reputation, damage to his professional reputation, damage to his career trajectory, damage to his family and children, and for the embarrassment, mental anguish, and inconvenience caused by the town’s illegal actions against him.”
According to the claim, James Perry intends to file suit in court if the matter is not resolved within 40 days of Feb. 22 when the claim was filed.
Three other firefighters, Ryan Grady, Edward Matola and Jonathan Szerlag presented a claim to the town council alleging violations of the Confidentiality of Health Care Communications and Information Act, and a violation of the Rhode Island Whistleblower’s Protection Act.
The claim alleges that the town negligently and or intentionally left confidential and sensitive medical information regarding the firefighters on a windowsill of the fire department office, resulting in several third parties seeing the material. In addition, the claim alleges the firefighters have been harassed and threatened by certain town employees in actions that include failure to pay timely wages or benefits, terminating or threatening to terminate benefits and positions, creating obstacles preventing them from returning to work in a timely manner and refusing to respond to requests for pay.
The three firefighters are seeking $100,000 plus interest and attorney fees for the violation of the RI Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, and $75,000 for the violation of the confidentiality of Health Care Communications and Information Act.
The third claim considered by the council on March 26 was regarding former assistant to the town manager Pamela Aveyard who was terminated following the appointment of the current town manager. Aveyard is seeking accrued “comp time” of $1,429, longevity pay of $1,600 and travel reimbursement of $25 for the time she worked with the town. The claim alleges Aveyard was due these wages but never received them.
The claims are given to the town council allowing them a “reasonable opportunity to settle without putting the municipality to the expense of defending an action at law,” however there was no discussion regarding any of the claims during the March meetings.