Michael Farrell, 48, was expelled Oct. 18 after his second suspension in the past five years. Two suspensions constitute grounds for expulsion, according to Avon Volunteer Fire Department board policy.
Farrell, who is no longer an Avon Volunteer Fire Department member, says he cannot technically appeal the decision to the department. Instead, he filed a complaint with the Town Council on Aug. 29. While the volunteer fire department is governed by its own board, Farrell is asking the Town Council to intervene given that the town provides funding to the fire department in its budget.
In the six-page complaint, Farrell questions the suspensions that led up to his expulsion and claims that his civil rights have been violated.
"The actions of the fire department’s upper administration in executing both of these suspensions were fraught with discrimination, bias, unfair practice(s), and improper interpretation and application of multiple department regulations," Farrell said in his complaint. "Accordingly, my family and I have been irreparably harmed personally, professionally, and have suffered tremendous financial losses as a result."
Fire department officials declined to comment on the complaint.
Laura Ward, the public relations representative for the department, wrote in an email to Patch that "the Avon Volunteer Fire Department does not discuss personnel matters with the media."The first related suspension, on Oct. 18, 2008, happened after Farrell made a comment that was deemed sexual harassment at a meeting with two female department members present. Farrell contended his comment was "benign" and misinterpreted. He wrote in his complaint that he was suspended 928 days after the meeting in question, which he said is outside of the federal government's 180-day allowed time frame "to formally file a sexual harassment complaint."
He also said he was "denied the right to appeal" the suspension.
Then, on June 18, 2012, he was suspended "for violation of the fire department’s medical leave and Physical Examination policy" after reportedly responding to two calls while on medical leave at the department.
However, Farrell said that he responded to both calls as a civilian — once to check on a fire alarm going off at the home of a 70-year-old neighbor he holds a key for and another time to check on the home of a friend who was out of the state when he heard sirens nearby.
Separately, around the same time, Farrell was on paid medical leave from his former job as a Waterbury fire captain. Initial criminal charges in Waterbury claiming workers' comp fraud and first-degree larceny were reduced to fourth-degree larceny and ultimately dismissed in April. Avon Volunteer Fire Department records of his activity during the medical leave period, including those two calls, were reviewed as part of the investigation.
The council takes any complaint that comes before it seriously and Town Manager Brandon Robertson investigates how the town should react, Town Council Chairman Mark Zacchio said of the process of reviewing complaints.
The council was scheduled to review "a possible claim against the town and/or fire department" in executive session at its meeting Thursday night, according to the meeting agenda. Robertson declined to comment on whether Farrell's complaint is the possible claim under review in executive session. He said that no action was expected to be taken on either of the items listed on the executive session agenda.
"The matter is appropriate for discussion in executive session," Robertson wrote to Patch in an email, "so that is all the detail that can be provided."
Farrell is newly employed as a firefighter at a department in Southern Coastal Maine. He also currently serves as chairman of the Avon Water Pollution Control Authority.