ORONO, Maine — Former Fire Chief Norman “Buddy” Webb has filed a federal age and disability discrimination lawsuit against the town.
Webb, 63, was fired June 14, 2012, the day after he filed a Maine Human Rights Commission complaint and six months before his contract was set to expire, according to the lawsuit filed May 19 in state court by his attorney, A.J. Greif of Bangor.
Greif has said the termination was without cause and was based on Webb’s age and his plans to have surgery on both knees. Webb was age 61 when the town terminated his contract.
“Beginning in January 2012, the town manager of defendant began making inappropriate age and disability-related inquiries of plaintiff,” the lawsuit states, referring to Town Manager Sophie Wilson. “Beginning shortly thereafter, Defendant began subjecting Plaintiff to adverse employment actions.”
In the disability discrimination count, the lawsuit states that Wilson asked Webb about “the current status of his knee problems, and plaintiff informed her that he would need to have the knees replaced.”
Webb, who worked 29 years at the Orono Fire Department and the last six as chief, had planned to schedule knee surgery before his contract expired in December 2012, and Greif says his termination was motivated by the town’s desire to avoid medical costs.
A third count also claims that Webb was fired in retaliation for him filing the Maine Human Rights Commission complaint.
The town denies all of Webb’s claims and states that he was justly terminated.
“Plaintiff’s termination was based on performance issues and insubordination that justified a termination for good cause, had that been required,” states the response filed by town attorney Edward Benjamin Jr. “Plaintiff’s termination was authorized by the terms of his employment contract, which allowed for termination without cause with the payment of four months’ severance pay.
“Plaintiff’s Maine Human Rights Commission claim was purposely served on the date set to discuss the terms of separation to give the appearance of whistleblower retaliation,” Benjamin said in the town’s response.
The town also moved the case on Thursday to U.S. District Court because it deals with federal laws,
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 Orono Fire Department. The Town Council named him fire chief in December 2006.
Robert St. Louis, a 22-year veteran, was hired as his replacement.