Norwich assistant animal control officer sues city for alleged discrimination
Norwich — Assistant Animal Control Officer Donna Gremminger has filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging her superiors discriminated against her while she was pregnant and then retaliated after she filed complaints.
Gremminger also had filed complaints with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, but subsequently asked for a release of jurisdiction from the commission to file the civil suit.
Gremminger’s five-count complaint, originally filed in state Superior Court in June, was removed to federal court in July at the request of the city, “in that the controversy involves a federal question and the deprivation of civil rights,” the city’s Notice of Removal stated.
The city has denied most of Gremminger’s allegations in its response to the suit, filed by attorney David S. Monastersky, and said one of her claims could not be retaliation for her CHRO complaint, because the alleged incident occurred 180 days prior to her filing the complaint with the state commission.
Police Chief Patrick Daley and City Manager John Salomone declined to comment last week on the lawsuit.
In her complaint, Gremminger’s attorney, Lorenzo J. Cicchiello of Norwich, said Gremminger was pregnant in 2017, and for several months the city used insecticide sprayers “in and around” her workspace that emitted chemicals allegedly harmful to her reproductive system. Gremminger repeatedly complained to her supervisor, then-police Sgt. Josip Peperni, to remove the sprayers, but he allegedly refused.
On July 1, 2017, Gremminger contacted the state Department of Labor Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which found the city in violation of health and safety regulations and assessed penalties.
In the city’s response, attorney Monastersky wrote that the city admitted that OSHA found violations but denied that the violations were related to the insecticide sprayers.
After Gremminger returned from maternity leave in September 2017, the city was still using the sprayers and had mounted them to a wall so they could not be directed away from her work area, her attorney wrote. Her obstetrician instructed her to discontinue breastfeeding.
Gremminger attempted to transfer to a clerk’s position at City Hall, but during her interview, Human Resources Director Brigid Marks allegedly informed Gremminger that she was not selected “because of excessive use of sick leave.” But she called the allegation “patently false,” and said she actually had sold back time at the end of the year.
In May 2018, Gremminger alleged that she was sexually assaulted in the course of working for the city, the lawsuit stated. “The plaintiff’s reports of this incident were treated with hostility and essentially dismissed by Sergeant Peperni,” Cicchiello wrote.
The city admitted Gremminger reported an assault but denied the remaining allegations regarding the department’s response to the report.
In June 2018, Peperni began to reduce her hours to 18 hours a week, depriving her of health benefits, pension, sick leave, holiday pay and vacation time. She was told she was the only employee losing all benefits as a result of the reduction in hours, the lawsuit stated.
Under a new supervisor, Sgt. Anthony Gomes, Gremminger alleged she was issued a written warning and felt intimidated when she disputed any alleged performance issues and was threatened with termination, the suit stated.
Gremminger also alleged that additional video cameras were installed in her work area, and Gomes allegedly said he observed her blocking the automatic pesticide sprayers, which were timed to spray every 7.5 to 15 minutes.
The city’s response denied that Gomes had been watching Gremminger on the video cameras but admitted that Gremminger turned off and blocked the sprayers “despite having been told not to do so,” the city’s attorney wrote.
Gremminger also complained that Gomes hired a kennel hand, who was given 12 hours of work a week, “the same number of hours that were taken from the plaintiff when she lost her part-time status,” the lawsuit said.
The suit seeks “just, fair and reasonable damages,” costs and attorney’s fees. Gremminger claimed that as a result of the alleged discrimination and retaliation, she has lost wages, health benefits, vacation time, retirement and pension benefits and has suffered “and will continue to suffer in the future” emotional and psychological pain and embarrassment.
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