Former Conn. Firefighter Files Retaliation Claim

July 16--NEW HAVEN -- Former firefighter turned Public Safety Communications 911 call center acting Director Michael Briscoe has filed a state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities complaint after his own union filed a lawsuit against him.

Briscoe claims in the complaint that the fire union's lawsuit is in retaliation for him filing his initial lawsuit regarding the 2003 promotional exam. The exam also spawned the Ricci v. DeStefano lawsuit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Briscoe sued the city in 2009. His case originally was thrown out by the U.S. District Court, but he successfully appealed the decision in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court. It once again landed in U.S. District Court where it again was dismissed.

Briscoe was set to appeal the decision when he and the city decided to settle for $285,000 with his transfer to the director position coinciding with the settlement. He had claimed that he was unfairly passed over for promotion because he was the top scorer on the oral portion of the exam, but scored a 59 on the written portion. He claimed the test was racially biased.

The fire union sued after the settlement, claiming that the transfer from a firefighter position to head of the city's 911 call center violated the city charter and was illegal.

"It's kind of bizarre for the union to keep one of its members from getting a good assignment," said attorney David Rosen, who represents Briscoe.

Rosen and Briscoe have also filed a notice of removal to have the fire union's lawsuit moved from state to federal court.

Fire union President Lt. James Kottage said that it was unfair to appoint one firefighter to the position without testing, while many are qualified and willing to do so. The CHRO complaint will slow down the process of coming to some kind of agreement.

"It's a totally unfair charge (by Briscoe) and this just compounds the problem of trying to work out any type of settlement concerning his position in communications,"Kottage said.

The fire union's lawsuit alleges a number of unfair practices, including bargaining directly with an individual from a bargaining unit. Most of the lawsuit centers on whether the transfer is legal under the city charter.

Under the city charter, the mayor can exercise a right to "assign any employee of one department to the temporary performance of similar duties in another department whenever the interests of the City require."

Briscoe's transfer was effective April 3 and will end Oct. 30, 2015, when he will outright become director, at a $98,000 a year salary, according to a letter to Briscoe by Mayor Toni Harp.

The fire union argues that the position of firefighter and head of the call center are two totally different positions. The police union wants a police supervisor at the center,

Kottage added Tuesday that he still isn't fully aware of Briscoe's duties, which is problematic because the union is still representing him.

Call Rich Scinto at 203-789-5748. Have questions, feedback or ideas about our news coverage? Connect directly with the editors of the New Haven Register at AskTheRegister.com.

Copyright 2014 - New Haven Register, Conn.

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