Fire Captain's Bullying Case Results In $300,000 Settlement
Not surprisingly, the attorney said, the investigation found no wrongdoing on DiGennaro's part.
Once that probe ended, came what Axelrod called "the last straw." That is when Kindschi noticed his fire equipment had been tampered with on more than one occasion. That included an air mask that firefighters wear to filter out strong chemicals and noxious fumes, and a "bailout kit" that firefighters carry that contains tools to help them deal with crisis situations.
At this point, Kindschi had used all of his accrued sick time and even began paying people to work his shifts. Axelrod said his client needed professional counseling to cope. A Yale psychiatrist provided expert testimony in the pending lawsuit.
Axelrod noted that the police chief later issued a memo warning safety personnel about tampering with equipment. The city also eventuallly included sanitation workers, police officers and firefighter in its no violence policy.
The case went to mediation before retired federal judge Alan Nevas, who recommended the parties reach a settlement. The case was recently settled for $300,000, plus the worth of 72 unused sick days. Kindschi then retired.
"It was my belief [the defense] could not take this case to trial. They would be in serious public trouble," said Axelrod.
Gorman, the lawyer for Meriden and DiGennaro, agreed there was substantial risk in going to trial. "From our perspective, the settlement was driven by our insurance coverage," said Gorman. "The insurance paid $250,000 of the judgment. We had a $50,000 deductible. Several of the claims that were made were not insured. If we didn't settle, the case would go to trial on several counts that wouldn't have insurance coverage."
Further, Gorman explained, if the city opted not to settle, the insurance policy limit would shrink from $1 million to $300,000. So the city would be on the hook for any potential jury verdict of more than $300,000. "The City Council, they did what was in the best interest of the city, given the disputed factual issues and due to the realities of the insurance issues," Gorman said.
Gorman said the city also conducted its own investigation and ordered counseling for one of the defendants. DiGennaro is still a deputy fire chief in Meriden. Even Axelrod acknowledged that DiGennaro is a "dedicated" firefighter.
Employment lawyer Gregg Adler, who is not involved in this case, said that while he regularly receives calls about hostile work environments, it is rare to get bullying complaints in a police and fire department setting. "There's a different, more developed sense of loyalty to one another that you don't see as much with other workplaces. I think that's in part to the work you do" where colleagues depend closely upon each other, said Adler, a partner at Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn & Kelly in Hartford.