N.Y. Judge Dismisses Female Firefighter's Lawsuit

A former Sackets Harbor EMT and interior firefighter, Helene Stewart-Rainville filed suit after he was fired for allegedly being unable to work with other members.

June 13--SACKETS HARBOR -- State Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky on Thursday refused to disturb a state Division of Human Rights determination that the termination of a member of the Sackets Harbor Fire Company was not due to discrimination based on her gender.

In a ruling from the bench, Judge McClusky said he found that the determination was not arbitrary or capricious, dismissing a request made in December by Helene G. Stewart-Rainville to have the determination set aside.

Ms. Stewart-Rainville, a former emergency medical technician and interior firefighter, filed Supreme Court action against the fire department and the state agency, claiming that the agency erred when it dismissed her complaint Oct. 7 after investigating claims that the volunteer department treated her differently from male members.

The department terminated her membership in December 2012, but did not formally pass a resolution rescinding her membership until April. In an oral argument made before Judge McClusky, Ms. Stewart-Rainville's attorney, Barry M. Schreibman, Cazenovia, claimed the resolution was passed to "cover up" mistakes made when the department initially moved to terminate her membership.

Ms. Stewart-Rainville originally was told that she was being fired because she could not "work effectively with other members." She was notified by mail to appear at a meeting to discuss the termination, but did not appear, instead hiring legal counsel who sent the department's board a letter detailing various areas of state Executive Law that she believed the department violated in firing her. Rather than a meeting, a hearing then was called to consider the matter, as required under the department's bylaws.

However, Ms. Stewart-Rainville contended that the hearing centered on whether she disobeyed an order by not showing up to the earlier meeting, not on whether she could work effectively with other members, the earlier reason given for her termination.

The department's attorney, Jonathan B. Fellows, Syracuse, argued before Judge McClusky that it was ignoring the department's requests to attend the meeting that prompted her firing, not discrimination.

"If the board asks you to come in and talk, yeah, you come in," Mr. Fellows said.

Judge McClusky said that while "it's clear from the record that the people involved didn't like each other," more evidence would be needed to infer that Ms. Stewart-Rainville was the victim of discrimination.

"I believe that it is a proper finding of the DHR," the judge said, dismissing the action.

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