Former Highway Department worker fighting ‘wrongful’ termination

Former Highway Department worker fighting ‘wrongful’ termination

Cumberland plans to appeal, town attorney says

CUMBERLAND – A former town worker is fighting to return to work, following his termination after he was injured on the job and required surgery.

Norman Tremblay, who worked for the Highway Department in Cumberland for 14 years, filed a grievance through the town’s union, represented by attorney Marc Gursky, on Nov. 13, 2015, after he was terminated. It was a move that was denied by both Mayor Bill Murray and Kathleen Taraian, human resources director for the town, shortly thereafter.

The grievance then moved to arbitration, where Timothy J. Buckalew, arbitrator, made a determination that Tremblay should be rehired to the highway department.

That decision was issued Dec. 13, 2016, and reads, “The town shall reinstate Norman Tremblay to his position in the Highway Department with full back pay and no loss of benefits commencing from the date he was medically released to return to his position.”

Tremblay, however, says the town has yet to hire him back.

Town attorney Chris Alger said while he could not comment on the ongoing legal matter, the town plans to file an appeal.

It all began on Aug. 5, 2014, Tremblay said, when he fell down stairs at work while carrying materials and ripped tendons in his left ankle.

“It was a mess,” he said. Then began a long process of meeting with doctors and specialists through the town’s health insurance provider, Beacon Insurance.

It wasn’t until June 24, 2015, that Tremblay had surgery. He said it was after 10 months of taking tests, CT scans and MRIs and working with multiple physicians that doctors determined the need for an operation to repair his ankle.

Tremblay had been going to physical therapy and was still seeing a doctor when the town terminated him, he explained.

As stated in the arbitration papers, Tremblay presented medical records showing that as of July 28, 2016, he’d been released for “full weight bearing activities” with no restrictions aside from wearing some type of an ankle brace.

The documents also read that, “He was not told that there was a time limit on his work related injury leave from work until he received the Nov. 10 termination letter.”

That letter reads, in part, that after reviewing medical reports, it is “obvious” that Tremblay wasn’t able to return to work, and his right to reinstatement to his position was “terminated at this time pursuant to Rhode Island law 28-33-47 (c)(I)(vi),” since it had been over a year from the date of his injury. The note also read that the town doesn’t have “provision for light duty work.”

Tremblay said thus far, the Cumberland Town Employees Union has spent $15,000 fighting this.

“Now, it’s going to cost more money. We’re not going to let go of this,” he said.

As noted in the arbitration ruling, other town employees missed work for over a year due to injuries sustained on the job, but were able to return to work.

“For some reason, they didn’t take me back. … I don’t know what the problem is,” Tremblay said.

Glenn Filipe, a laborer for the Highway Department, testified that he, too, was out of work from November 2007 through March 2009, after an injury, and said he was terminated after 13 months, but rehired after filing a grievance.

According to arbitration documents, Filipe followed the same steps, “described by Tremblay to communicate with the town about his status and readinesses for work: he brought his medical notes to the department secretary or his foreman.”

Now, Tremblay, a resident since 1998, said he’s doing his best to pay bills and stay afloat, but has closed out multiple accounts, including his 401k.

Tremblay said, “This has got to be taken care of, because if it’s not, the town can do this to anybody else that’s out more than a year … everybody’s going to be worrying about getting hurt on the job and after a year, they’re still going to therapy, they might be terminated. It’s wrong.”