Novato Fire District settles out of court for $250,000 - Marinscope Community Newspapers : News

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Novato Fire District settles out of court for $250,000

Former battalion chief originally filed $6 million claim against the NFPD and two fellow chiefs

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Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 3:13 pm | Updated: 3:17 pm, Wed Feb 13, 2013.

The Novato Fire Protection District settled a claim for approximately $250,000, just months after two high-ranking firemen, both who were involved in the claim, left the district for good.

Recently retired battalion chief Michael Hughes filed a $6 million claim against the NFPD, retired fire chief Marc Revere and former deputy chief Eric Nickel in October of 2012, which listed multiple allegations regarding events during his employment.

Some of the allegations included violations of Labor Code Section 1102.5, violation of Government Code Section 3253 (i), hostile work environment and denial of professional advancement, interim Fire Chief Ken Massucco wrote in a statement.

To avoid costly legal fees, all parties decided to settle out of court. Part of that settlement included the end of the three men’s’ “employment relationship,” according to the settlement. Hughes resigned Jan. 31.

“The Board of Directors of the NPFD, after a thorough investigation by independent investigators, and with no admission of liability whatsoever, elected to settle this matter,” Massucco wrote.

Multiple incidents were listed in the 10-page claim. It started by stating: “I enjoyed working as [battalion chief], and my job continues to be rewarding, fulfilling and challenging. However, in the last few months, the hostility directed at me in the work environment has mounted to an escalating, intolerable level because I have engaged in statutory protected activity,” Hughes wrote.

According to the claim, the NPFD agreed that “merit-based pay increases” would be allotted at 5 percent. After a member of the district approached Hughes and reported that he made 3 percent in 2009 and 2 percent in 2010, Hughes confronted Nickel.

“Defendant Nickel was violating the Battalion Chief’s 5th and 14th Amendment Rights under the United States Constitution of Due Process by taking his property, to wit: his merit-based pay increase,” Hughes wrote. “I was also reporting, in effect, a potential violation of the Fire Fighter’s Procedure Bill of Rights by denial of a benefit without due process.”

The claim goes on to say, “Revere was asked by Battalion Chief Bill Tyler if the merit-based pay increase could be taken away. Defendant Revere replied it could not because it would become part of an individual’s base pay.”

According to Hughes, when he began to talk about the amount increase agreed upon during a staff meeting on July 10, 2010 “Nickel erupted into a violently angry outburst . . angrily pointing his finger and threatening me with demotion to rank of Captain, if I continued to discuss merit-based pay increases with other members of my group.”

Hughes filed a complaint for a hostile work environment on July 11, 2010. Shortly after Hughes was ordered by Revere to attend counseling sessions with Nickel.

Days after Hughes filed his complaint, Nickel and Revere allegedly put a suspension to any merit-based pay increases, Hughes wrote.

In March of 2011 Hughes made another request for merit-based pay increases, according to the statement, but Nickel allegedly didn’t complete the paperwork necessary to the finance department.

The claim describes multiple acts of “retaliation,” incidents of “delayed patient care,” and Hughes’ being placed on paid administrative time off by Revere on May 31, 2011.

“[Revere and Nickel] have engaged in an energetic pattern and practice of harassment, intimidation and retaliation against me, by engaging in conduct such as ignoring numerous business communications and requests by me, falsely accusing me of being derelict in my employment duties; and disclosing confidential information which should have been strictly limited to human resources personnel, thereby invading my constitutional right to privacy,” Hughes wrote.

Though Hughes was awarded cash, certain deductions were made, which were owed to the NFPD. Of the $251,695, approximately $50,000 will be used to pay an Aug. 31 home loan made to Hughes by the NFPD.

“At least $120,000 of the settlement is expected to be covered by the district’s insurance,” Massucco wrote, “As well as the payment of owed [$22,000] retroactive pay.”

As part of the settlement, Hughes also waived any and all claims he may have in the future regarding the dispute and his employment with the NFPD.

To offset future claims and issues in the workplace, the NFPD is instituting internal corrective measures,” Massucco wrote.

The NFPD is an independent special district providing all risk fire, rescue, emergency medical paramedic service and risk reduction to the City of Novato and the communities of Bel Marin Keys, Loma Verde, Black Point, Green Point, Wild Horse and Indian valleys. The NFPD serves nearly 63,000 residents and responds to over 5,000 incidents annually.

For more information, call 878-2690.

Contact Nicole Baptista at nbaptista@marinscope.com.

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