BANGOR, Maine — An attorney for the town of Orono told a federal judge Monday that the town manager had legitimate reasons for firing former fire chief Norman “Buddy” Webb, now 65, even though a cause was not listed on his termination papers.
Webb’s attorney argued that the 29-year Orono Fire Department veteran had a single oral warning and a long series of positive evaluations in his personnel file when he was fired on June 14, 2012. His termination was illegal because it was based on his age, a disability and in retaliation of his filing complaints with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just 24 hours before he was let go, attorney A.J. Greif of Bangor said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison will decide if there are disputed facts in the case that must be decided by a jury or if the town is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
Webb sued the town in Penobscot County Superior Court in May 2014 after receiving right-to-sue letters from the human rights commission and EEOC. The town moved the lawsuit the next month to U.S. District Court in Bangor. Edward Benjamin and Jeana McCormick, the Portland attorneys who represent the town, filed a motion for summary judgment June 30. The judge held a hearing on the motion Monday.
Town Manager Sophie Wilson gave Webb opportunities to improve his job performance but he repeatedly failed to do so, McCormick told Nivison. One of Wilson’s concerns was Webb’s relationship with the police chief.
“Despite her efforts to engage him, [Webb] was unwilling to talk with Ms. Wilson about problems related to the fire department,” the town’s motion for summary judgment said. “The absence of any meaningful communication from [Webb] about these issues made Ms. Wilson deeply concerned about his ability to lead the fire department.”
Greif called Wilson’s stated reason for firing Webb “silly” in a statement emailed to the Bangor Daily News after the hearing. The attorney alleged that Wilson “micro-managed older supervisors and let younger supervisors work with a free hand.”
“Ironically, Sophie Wilson knew that the chief of police had had numerous complaints from his subordinates, while Buddy had no complaints from his and no performance issues within his department,” the attorney said. “Yet, she defined the problem as Buddy’s and imposed no expectation of cooperation upon [the police chief], who was 10 years younger. She fired Buddy the day she became aware that he had complained to the MHRC about age discrimination.”
Webb is seeking compensatory damages, including back pay and pay he would have received had he not been fired, and attorney’s fees.
There is no timetable under which Nivison must issue a decision.
If the summary judgment motion is denied, a trial most likely would not be scheduled until next year.