Fire District settles lawsuits

Friday, August 17, 2007 | 6:23 p.m. CDT; updated 6:02 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Boone County Fire Protection District on Friday announced that it had settled two lawsuits and negotiated agreements in three other potential lawsuits by former employees.

One lawsuit against the district brought by the district’s former chief of staff Rob Brown in federal court earlier this month detailed financial mismanagement by former Assistant Fire Chief Sharon Curry, inappropriate sexual behavior between Curry and fire district Chief Steve Paulsell at the fire district’s headquarters and a discriminatory work environment, according to previous Missourian reports.

The other suit against the district, brought by former assistant chief of training Bruce Piringer, alleged sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

The other three people the district negotiated agreements with were former assistant chief of training Todd Burke, former volunteer battalion chief Jerry Jenkins and former firefighter Deb Diller. All three filed complaints against the fire district with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Kent Brown, the fire district’s lawyer who is not related to Rob Brown.

The fire district’s insurance carrier, VFIS, paid a total of $112,500 to settle the claims, and the five people awarded the money may divide that among themselves, Kent Brown said.

“It was never about the money, it was about principles,” said Bruce Piringer when reached by phone Friday afternoon.

Paulsell could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. But in an interview for a story published in the Missourian in January, Paulsell said the plaintiffs’ claims were baseless.

“These lawsuits — it’s retribution by a small group of disgruntled people,” Paulsell said. “They’re trying to get back at us and have kept us filling out legal forms for two years. They needed to go.”

Brown said while he did not know why the fire district settled the lawsuits, the litigation was very disruptive to the fire district.

“This settlement prevents a future wasting of assets, time, and man hours in defending the lawsuits and allows the district to focus on its chief function, which is public safety,” Kent Brown said.

Calls to Jefferson City attorney David Moen, who has represented Piringer and Rob Brown, were not immediately returned. Diller, Jenkins and Burke could not be reached for comment.

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