The Novato Fire District announced Wednesday that it has settled a lawsuit filed against it by a former battalion chief who claimed that Chief Marc Revere and Deputy Chief Eric Nickel, both of whom have since left the district, harassed, intimidated and retaliated against him, among other things.
To settle the case, the district is paying former Battalion Chief Michael Hughes $251,695, which will be reduced by $50,000, the amount of Hughes’ outstanding balance on a home loan the district made to him, according to the terms of the agreement (attached at right).
In settling the claim, the district made “no admission of liability whatsoever,” according to a statement from interim Chief Ken Massucco, the former Marin County Fire chief who came out of retirement in December to replace Revere, who abruptly retired after a closed-session performance review with the district board.
Prior to the district's regular board meeting Wednesday night, board President Farhad Mansourian said the district is "hitting the reset button" on the matter.
"This is the Novato Fire District, which operationally is superior as demonstrated by the saving of three teenagers off a balcony a few days ago," Mansourian said. "That's Novato Fire, and that's what the public cares about — service.”
"The district deals with legal issues all the time, and this is one of those issues that has to be dealt with,” he continued. “We settled in order to save the taxpayers money. It would've been very expensive to have this drag on."
Hughes, who did not return several phone messages, filed his complaint in October 2011, seeking $6 million on a slew of allegations that revolved around Revere and Nickel. The brouhaha began, Hughes claimed, in early 2010 over a dispute with Nickel regarding merit-based pay increases.
The dispute elevated in January 2011, with Hughes claiming that Revere severely punished him for a counseling session he had with a female firefighter who Hughes said had refused his order to stop at a safe distance from the scene. The firefighter accused Hughes of violating the district’s harassment policy. In the complaint, Hughes claimed that the discipline came despite Nickel’s prior assurance that there was no merit to the allegations.
Hughes claimed that Battalion Chief Mark Heine, the firefighter association’s representative, was prevented from attending a subsequent meeting with Revere and Nickel, in violation of state labor laws.
Hughes claimed that the retaliation against him ranged from the suspension of his merit-based bay, removal of his weekend duty coverage and eventually a paid administrative leave.
The complaint included an alleged exchange between Hughes and Revere in August 2011 in which Revere used a number of means to ask Hughes if he was “in or out,” including the use of a book about former NBA star Scottie Pippen, who once had an “in or out” exchange with coach Phil Jackson, as well as a mirror that Revere placed in front of Hughes that had the words “in or out?” scrawled on it.
According to the complaint, from July 2010 on, Revere and Nickel “engaged in an energetic pattern and practice of harassment intimidation and retaliation against me” by ignoring his requests, “falsely accusing me of being derelict in my employment duties” and disclosing personal information about him, “thereby invading my constitutional right to privacy.”
Hughes retired last week after 30 years in the fire service, 14 of which were in Novato. His coworkers threw him a farewell party and posted photos of the festivities on the district's Facebook page.