Stamford sought to settle lawsuit with firefighters over promotions — then the deal fell apart, court records show

Photo of Brianna Gurciullo
A Stamford Fire Department truck on the west side of Stamford, Conn., on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

A Stamford Fire Department truck on the west side of Stamford, Conn., on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Michael Cummo / Hearst Connecticut Media

STAMFORD — Earlier this year, the city and four firefighters agreed to a set of terms to finally settle a dispute over promotions.

But as lawyers were hashing out the details of the settlement agreement, the firefighters tried to add new terms, the city has complained in a new court filing.

Stamford is now asking a judge to enforce the original terms.

In 2018, two firefighters, Robert Pickering and Brian Whitbread, and two lieutenants, Kevin Dingle and Bruce Wagoner, filed a lawsuit claiming they were passed over for promotions in a way that violated Stamford’s charter and civil service rules. They specifically took issue with candidates’ scores being rounded to whole numbers as part of the promotional process in 2017.

In 2019, state Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis found that the four firefighters “were not fairly considered for promotion” and granted an injunction that continued a pause on lieutenant and captain promotions.

In March of this year, the firefighters and the city agreed to terms for a settlement, according to a memo filed earlier this month.

The city agreed to pay the four firefighters a total of $200,000. It also agreed to carry out a promotional process using scores from 2017 without rounding and to have a monitor present at the Fire Commission’s meetings on the promotions.

The firefighters, meanwhile, agreed to ask for the injunction to be lifted and withdraw their lawsuit.

A lawyer for the city and a lawyer for the firefighters then exchanged drafts of a full settlement agreement. Draft language stated that the individuals promoted through the agreed-upon process would have seniority dates going back to 2018 or 2019, making them eligible to apply for a promotion to a higher position within the department in the next round of exams.

But then, the city said, the firefighters “inexplicably sought to add language that the seniority awarded to the successful candidates for promotion would be ‘for all purposes including back pay [and] future assignments.’”

The firefighters also “sought to add a condition for the withdrawal of the lawsuit, making it contingent upon ‘any issue raised by the monitor being resolved,’” the city said.

After more back and forth, the firefighters’ attorney, Elisabeth Maurer, sent an email to the parties’ mediator, retired Superior Court Judge Elaine Gordon, saying they had “failed to reach a meeting of the minds” and were “at an impasse.”

Maurer did not return a request for comment.

The city complained in its memo to the court that the two provisions the firefighters wanted to add to the final settlement “were not part of, and are contrary to” the initial terms to which both sides agreed.

The city added that it has “invested considerable resources in the mediation and subsequent settlement communications in the interest of resolving this case so that the disruption and expense that this litigation has caused may be brought to an end and so that the city may move forward to conduct promotions to fully-staff its supervisory ranks.”

No promotions to lieutenant or captain have taken place since 2017, according to the filing. The department currently has six vacant captain positions and six vacant lieutenant positions.

“The lack of permanent supervisors caused by the injunction has increasingly endangered firefighters and compromised the public’s safety and promotions should be allowed to proceed as soon as possible,” the city said.

A hearing on the city’s request has been scheduled for July 7. The parties are also expected to meet for a pretrial conference soon.