The federal lawsuit filed by a former Paterson fire department dispatcher Robert Connizzo alleging co-workers tormented, assaulted, and retaliated against him for reporting a conversation he heard over the dispatch system where two employees discussed illegal drug use and a violation of the city’s sick leave policy was settled for $80,000 by the city council on Tuesday evening.
The incident that resulted in the lawsuit happened on November 8th, 2011. Connizzo was listening to dispatch calls from the previous day at the behest of his supervisor fire battalion chief Thomas Behnke when he came upon a call in the dispatch system between Leticia Howe and firefighter Kippy Smith.
“Howe and Smith could be heard planning illegal activity, including the use of narcotics, and also planning a deliberate” violation of the city’s sick leave police, alleges the lawsuit filed on August 13th, 2013.
Connizzo, feeling obligated to inform a higher up what he had heard, informed Ryan Murray, battalion fire chief. Murray instructed him to go home and that he will be “in touch” about the call.
Murray subsequently had Conizzo write reports about what he had heard. After the reports were submitted to Murray, Connizzo was subjected to bullying at the department. He was called a “f*cking rat,” a “piece of sh*t,” “garbage,” a “faggot, and even threated with, “snitches get stitches.”
Howe, fire alarm operator Keisha Wesley, and a number of city firefighters allegedly were involved in the verbal abuse, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit states the abuse took place in front of Murray who did nothing to stop it.
Connizzo complained to higher ups including Murray and Behnke, both indicated they would address the matter, but never did, according to the lawsuit. He unsuccessfully attempted to transfer from the shift where Howe and Wesley worked in December 2011. The verbal abuse continued into mid-December, according to Connizzo’s lawsuit, which resulted in him calling a meeting with deputy fire chief Michael Fleming.
Flemings allegedly informed Connizzo that “nothing would come of it” and that fire chief Michael Postorno was allegedly “pissed” of at him for reporting the “illegal and violative activity and for writing the report” that Murray had ordered him to write.
The retaliatory behavior continued during the subsequent months. On January 20th, 2012, Connizzo was informed by Murray that he would be transferred to a different shift. He was further told not to come to work until the afternoon of January 22nd, 2012.
On January 21st, 2012 at about 12:15 a.m. Connizzo’s home was visited by two Little Falls police officer, who received a call from members of the Paterson fire department stating he was suicidal and was a danger to himself and other, according to the lawsuit.
Connizzo and his parents convinced the officers of the “absurdity” of the report. The officers left. On January 21st, 2012 at 10 a.m., Connizzo mentioned the incident to Fleming.
Flemings told him he notified Little Falls police after Howe and Wesley reported he was suicidal, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit states the incident was orchestrated to “cast doubt on the veracity” of Connizzo’s valid complaint which resulted din retaliation.
Connizzo was placed on paid administrative leave on January 21st, 2012 by fire brass.
On March 16th, 2012, Connizzo was called into a meeting with Michael Postorino and deputy fire chief Kevin Hancock. He was advised that he was “cleared of all charges” despite not being charged with anything, according to the lawsuit.
Connizzo was allowed to return to work on March 17th, 2012 without any fitness for duty evaluation. After returning, the same abuse continued, until it took a far worse turn later that month, according to the lawsuit.
While leaving work after his shift, “he was accosted, assaulted and battered by a group of Paterson firefighters” including Howe, according to the lawsuit. Connizzo was allegedly approached from behind, slammed against a wall, frisked as if he was a police suspect, and content of his bag was dropped to the ground, according to the federal court complaint.
On June 18th, 2012, Connizzo was allegedly intimidated by public safety director Glenn Brown, as he was briefly leaving work with permission from supervisors to retrieve his cellphone charger, which was left home.
Brown allegedly gestured towards his handgun on his right hip as if to draw it against Connizzo as the latter was leaving the firehouse. He “immediately felt threatened and drove home.”
Connizzo informed higher ups who told him to write a report. After the report was written, He was instructed to go home and not return until further notice, according to the lawsuit.
Connizzo was placed on administrative leave without his notice, he alleges. Not until September 2012, did Connizzo receive any notices. After retraining an attorney, Connizzo received a letter to undergo fitness for duty testing.
In March 2013, he was found “fit for duty,” according to the lawsuit. And was to return to work on March 31st, 2013. The same day he was notified by Fleming, Connizzo sought to be re-trained in the dispatch system.
Fleming told him not to return to work on March 31st, 2013, and to wait further instruction about the re-training, according to the suit.
On June 19th, 2013, Connizzo finally heard back from the city, charging him with “inability to perform duties” and calling for his termination, according to the lawsuit.
Council members approved the settlement amount during a special meeting on Tuesday evening without any public discussions.