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Former Sackets Harbor firefighter asks judge to restore discrimination claim

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SACKETS HARBOR — A former member of the Sackets Harbor Fire Company is asking a judge to set aside a determination made by the state Division of Human Rights that concluded she was not discriminated against because of her gender.

Helene G. Stewart-Rainville, a former emergency medical technician and interior firefighter, filed state Supreme Court action Friday at the Jefferson County clerk’s office 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 than male members.

The department terminated her membership in December 2012, but did not formally pass a resolution rescinding her membership until April. Through her attorney, Barry M. Schreibman, Cazenovia, Ms. Stewart-Rainville contends that formal termination was “manufactured” by a lawyer after the department “realized it had broken the law and needed to retroactively cover its tracks.”

The complaint alleges that in May 2012 Ms. Stewart-Rainville reported to the department and military police at Fort Drum that another member, Randolph V. Lynd, who is a soldier, had threatened to kill her. She contends that in August 2012, Mr. Lynd started to pull away in fire truck as she was boarding it, leaving her “off balance while still half outside the truck” and placing her “in fear of falling under the wheels.”

According to court documents, Mr. Lynd testified before the Division of Human Rights that he had no recollection of the alleged incident.

Ms. Stewart-Rainville’s complaint claims that, rather than investigating Mr. Lynd’s alleged actions, the fire department then began to investigate her. The department ultimately determined that Ms. Stewart-Rainville should be terminated from the department because she could not “work effectively with other members.”

She was notified by mail to appear at a meeting to discuss the termination, but she did not appear, instead hiring legal counsel who sent the department a letter detailing various areas of state Executive Law she believes the department violated in firing her. Rather than a meeting, a hearing was then called to consider the matter, as required under the department’s bylaws.

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

Her complaint also claims discrimination in that she claims the department refused to provide her with firefighting equipment in her size and an allegation that her structural firefighting gloves repeatedly came up missing, “sabotaging” her ability to fight fires.

She also claims, among other things, that she was singled out for mistreatment because she had made comments before the Hounsfield Town Council that were critical of the department.

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