The city of Attleboro, a former fire chief/mayoral candidate, the local firefighters union and several Attleboro firefighters are defendants in a recently filed federal lawsuit alleging fire Capt. Dennis Perkins has been harassed and his civil rights were violated. Perkins filed the suit July 3 at the U.S. district court in Boston.
[A PDF of the lawsuit complaint is attached to this article]
Perkins was the subject of a racial discrimination investigation in which he was alleged to have harassed black firefighter Vincent Bailey (a defendant in Perkins' suit). Perkins was suspended for five days and the city paid Bailey $25,000 last year for emotional distress, according to The Sun Chronicle, after the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination determined there was probable cause the fire department had created a racially hostile work environment.
The accused captain alleges MCAD reached this conclusion based on false statements made by the city and firefighters in a conspiracy against him. Perkins was being punished, he alleges, because he wrote a letter in opposition to Churchill's attempt to continue serving as chief, despite having reached the maximum age allowed to keep the job.
"The defendants intentionally, willfully, recklessly and maliciously misaligned the plaintiff and retaliated against the plaintiff because of his actual and/or perceived lack of support [for] defendant Churchill, and defendants acted under color of authority in gross disregard for the plaintiff's rights," Perkins' complaint states.
The complaint continues, "As a consequence of defendants' actions, the plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer damages, including, but not limited to loss of income and benefits, loss of personal and professional reputation, other financial losses and emotional and mental distress, and the plaintiff's damages continue to date."
Perkins claims he has been passed up for promotions and "the defendants continue to publicly berate the plaintiff during the performance of his duties, and continue to write disparaging remarks about the plaintiff in the form of anonymous letters to the plaintiff's supervisors."
Mayor Kevin Dumas wrote in an email to Attleboro Patch that this website's request for comment was the first time anyone from the city had heard about the suit and that no city official had been served as of Thursday afternoon.
"The allegations in this lawsuit, if true, are serious, and the city will respond to them accordingly," Dumas wrote. "Unfortunately, some of the most troubling allegations involve former Chief Churchill and will need to be answered by him personally."
Churchill and the president of Attleboro Firefighters Union 848 did not respond to Patch's requests for interviews. Current Chief Scott Lachance, who is not named in the suit, responded that he had no comment.
Churchill was granted a renewal for his position as fire chief in 2009 following the approval of special legislation by the state legislature at the request of Dumas and the City Council. Churchill retired in 2010 and made an unsuccessful run for mayor against Dumas last year.
Although the investigation into Bailey's accusations of racial harassment involved more than one alleged incident, the suit only mentions one claim about an argument between Bailey and Churchill at the South Attleboro station on July 4, 2009. Perkins' complaint states that Bailey refused an assignment. It alleges he "yelled, paced, muttered, and loudly expressed his disagreement over the assignment" and "a verbal exchange ensued," followed by Bailey leaving the station despite being told by Deputy Chief Glen Livesey (a defendant in Perkins' suit) to remain there.
Perkins says Livesey was in charge of the incident investigation, which he alleges included the collection of fabricated statements from several sources, including firefighters who not see the incident take place.
"The written statements prepared by the defendants were based upon hearsay, allegations of incidents that had purportedly occurred in the past, factually inaccurate recitations of disciplinary issues and allegations about matters for which the defendants had no personal knowledge," Perkins' complaint states. "And the defendants conspired together to prepare the written disparaging remarks about the plaintiff to ensure the plaintiff was not promotionally advanced in the department."
Perkins alleges he requested further investigation, but his request was denied, and he was not allowed to have an attorney present during "ambush interviews and investigatory meetings" about the July 4, 2009 incident.
"[The city] engaged in a wrongful, capricious, improper and unfair disciplinary process, involving amassing adverse information about the plaintiff in the form of written defamatory remarks, placing him in the predicament of having to defend himself against stale, untimely, and baseless accusations, conjecture, and speculation, and taking adverse employment action against the plaintiff on the basis of rumors and speculation," Perkins' complaint states.
The complaint continues, "The defendants acted in concert to intentionally harm the plaintiff and adversely affect the plaintiff's employment and promotional advancement opportunities, and acted to intentionally deprive the plaintiff of his constitutionally protected rights, including his right to employment, by engaging in a scheme to fabricate accusations, allegations, and information about the plaintiff to depict the plaintiff in a negative light, in an effort to prevent the plaintiff from promotion and in an attempt to have the plaintiff demoted and/or terminated."
Perkins is seeking an unspecified amount of monetary compensation for compensatory and punitive damages as well as lost wages and attorney fees.