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If the complaints against a Torrington, Conn., fire chief were transferred to an audio format, the words would sound something like a bad blue-comedy record, according to New Haven, Conn., attorney William Palmieri. Both of the plaintiffs that Palmieri represents claim that the Torrington chief, Marcuam Johnson, subjected workers in the firehouse to unlawful and lewd behaviors by, among other things, allegedly grabbing male coworkers between the legs and repeatedly tapping his secretary’s buttocks. Palmieri, of New Haven’s Williams & Pattis, said, as his case enters the discovery phase, that he awaits the defendant’s response to complaints from suspended Torrington Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Schapp and Gayle Carpenter, the department’s current senior secretary. According to separate complaints filed last fall, first by Schapp and then by Carpenter, in U.S. District Court in New Haven, each plaintiff claims that Johnson subjected them to a hostile work environment by his alleged offensive actions. In his complaint, Schapp alleges that Johnson, Torrington Mayor Mary Jane Gryniuk and Torrington Personnel Director Thomas Gritt retaliated against him for alerting them to Johnson’s alleged strange behaviors. Schapp contends that such behaviors included Johnson grabbing male colleagues between the legs, putting his hands in the front pockets of male colleagues and “tickling” them while simulating “anal sex,” pulling down a firefighter’s sweatpants in front of the man’s two children, and telling a lieutenant who erred on a dispatch call to “pull out his pee pee so that he [Johnson] could whack it.” In the complaint, Palmieri says Johnson admitted during a police investigation of the alleged sexual assaults that “on five or six occasions he had come up behind a male employee, placed his hands in the employee’s front pockets, and ‘goosed the inside part of his hip bone.’ ” Johnson further stated the actions “ have a ticklish effect on some people” causing them to “lean at the waist and step back” and to press their buttocks against Johnson’s groin. Johnson also allegedly admitted that in at least one instance a firefighter “probably said stop as most people do, and I probably did not stop and zinged him again.” In Carpenter’s complaint, she alleges, among other things, that Johnson responded to her taking medication by stating, “Won’t it give you bigger breasts?” and that he repeatedly struck her in the buttocks with a ruler and other objects. In both complaints, the plaintiffs allege that they told Gryniuk in 1999 that Johnson had “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace” that the staff found offensive and disturbing. Schapp also said he spoke with local Board of Safety commissioners, Gryniuk, and Gritt on more than one occasion regarding his concerns, and was told no action would be taken other than forcing Johnson to issue a memo regarding a ban on pornography. Schapp was later suspended for a week, without any reason given, and received a written warning threatening him with termination. A few months later Schapp learned that Johnson allegedly grabbed the testicles of an equipment maintenance employee, but fearing he would lose his job, Schapp did not report the incident to Gryniuk or any of the others. In response, Schapp was given a letter of written warning for not reporting the incident to Gryniuk or the others, Palmieri said. Schapp and Carpenter filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. However, because the CHRO did not respond in the time required by law, both Schapp and Carpenter got “permission to sue” letters from the U.S. Justice Department, and the case went to federal court. On June 14, 2000, during a meeting of the Board of Safety, Schapp was suspended for five days without notice or cause, Palmieri said — a decision that was later reversed by the Freedom of Information Commission. According to FOIC Appellate Attorney Victor Perpetua, Schapp’s suspension was “null and void” because the vote to suspend the deputy chief violated FOI laws. Six months later Schapp was again suspended, this time indefinitely and without cause, Palmieri said. “My client [Schapp] would rather be working for his money and giving something back to the town,” Palmieri said. After Carpenter also filed her complaint in federal court, Johnson was briefly suspended with pay, but was eventually permitted to return to the department, prompting fear in Carpenter, according to the complaint. He has since been suspended with pay. “Things are pretty tough for her there,” Palmieri said.

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