May 22, 2018
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Orono fire chief claims age discrimination after town terminates his contract

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — The town’s fire chief of six years has filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission after he was fired last week, six months before his contract was set to expire, according to his attorney.

The town terminated the contract of Fire Chief Norman “Buddy” Webb last week, according to Town Manager Sophie Wilson.

Webb’s attorney, Arthur J. Greif of the Bangor law firm Gilbert & Greif, said late Tuesday afternoon the termination was without cause and was based on Webb’s age and his plans to have surgery on both knees.

Webb, 61, declined to comment Tuesday and referred questions to his attorney.

Webb mailed a complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission on June 13, according to Greif.

The next day, Greif said, Wilson informed Webb that his contract was being terminated.

Greif said his client “was concerned about questions [the town manager had asked] about when he was going to retire,” so Webb drafted and sent the complaint before meeting with her on June 14.

“He wasn’t about to resign,” Greif said.

Wilson said the town terminated Webb’s employment contract on June 14 “pursuant to mutually agreed upon contract provisions.” She declined to elaborate on why the contract, which was scheduled to expire in December, was terminated early.

A provision in Webb’s contract stated that the town could end his contract without reason if it paid him a four-month severance package.

Webb, who worked 29 years at the fire department, had planned to schedule knee surgery before December, but his insurance will last only until the end of June, according to Greif.

Greif argued that Webb’s termination was motivated by the fire chief’s age and a desire by the town to avoid medical costs.

“I think that if you replace older supervisors with younger supervisors, you decrease costs to the town,” he said.

Wilson said Tuesday afternoon that the town has yet to receive any notice of complaints from the Human Rights Commision. Greif claimed the town does have a copy of the complaint and that someone in the town office signed for the notice on June 14.

Wilson could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening after Greif elaborated on the complaint.

The Human Rights Commission does not release records on open cases and information is classified until the case is either administratively dismissed or listed on a commission meeting agenda, according to Cindy Albert, a case controller with the commission.

Albert said the commission can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a pending case.

Greif said he expects to hear by December whether the commission finds Webb has a right to sue.

Webb was hired by the town in 1983 and served as a firefighter for nine years before being promoted to captain in 1992, according to reports published in the Bangor Daily News. In 2005, he became deputy fire chief and assumed management responsibility for overall operations of the Fire Department. The Town Council named him fire chief in December 2006.

Wilson said fire lieutenants will continue to cover calls as they normally do and that Orono Police Chief Gary Duquette has taken over as supervisor and manager of the fire department.

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