NORTH SMITHFIELD — While the terms of the agreement have not yet been made public, NRI NOW has learned that the Town Council has approved the settlement of a long-standing lawsuit against members of the North Smithfield Police Department alleging employment discrimination over sexual orientation.
The suit, filed in 2013 by former police dispatcher Dominic Pratt, alleged violation of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act and the Fair Employment Practices Act listing several members of the department, including former Chief Steven Reynolds, individually.
“Shortly after February, 2010 and up until the plaintiff’s firing in November, 2010, (the) plaintiff was subject to severe and pervasive harassment and discrimination based upon the perception that he was gay,” the suit notes.
According to documents submitted by Pratt’s attorney, Carly Beauvais Iafrate of Providence, the plaintiff was first hired by the NSPD as a part-time dispatcher in August of 2009. Shortly after he was hired, a second, full-time dispatcher, Mark Morris, moved in with Pratt, and the pair bought two chihuahuas in February of 2010.
The complaint states that Lt. Gregory Landry and then Officer Gregory Chito would constantly ask Pratt about Morris’s sexual orientation, and say that they thought he was gay. It states that Pratt was subject to constant name calling and gay-related comments during his time at the department, noting that at one point, Reynolds referred to Morris as the plaintiff’s partner.
It also states that department members would threaten and harass Pratt with their tasers – stunning him, “at least six times,” and chasing him around threatening to do so more than a hundred times – sometimes placing it against his skin when it was not activated.
“These incidents involved them getting very physical with (the) plaintiff because he struggled not to get hurt,” the complaint notes.
The suit also alleges that Jared Salinaro, who was either a sergeant or lieutenant at the time, would harass Pratt with his K-9, getting “Vasko,” to jump on and nip at him. Salerno, who has not worked for the department since 2013, the year the suit was filed, is also accused of threatening Pratt with pepper spray, and at points, spraying it at his lower body and into his car window.
“On a number of occasions, defendant Salinaro threatened (the) plaintiff with physical harm if he told anyone about the harassment,” the suit states.
Landry is accused of stealing the plaintiff’s cell phone on several occasions and sending texts to Morris with messages such as, “I love you.”
The suit notes that in November of 2012, both dispatchers were suspended.
Pratt has been seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the case, noting that the discriminatory conduct was open and well-known.
In October of 2012, both Pratt and Morris were suspended because of the way they handled a call, and that November, Pratt was reportedly fired because of an off-duty incident that took place in Massachusetts.
The “plaintiff believes he was disciplined and fired not because of the reasons articulated, but because he was perceived as being gay,” notes the complaint.
Attorney Marc DeSisto denied the allegations on behalf of the town, also citing, in part, qualified immunity and the public duty doctrine.
State records show that a claim of jury trial was filed in the case in 2014, but it sat for four years before an entry of appearance in 2018. Last August, a judge granted a motion to assign the suit for trial.
A “stipulation to enter,” was filed in June, an indication that the opposing parties had reached an agreement out of court. The parties are due back in court in August, likely to officially file the settlement approved by councilors in closed session on Tuesday, June 27.
Editor’s note: An original version of this article stated that Marc DeSisto represented the plaintiff, when he is one of the attornies defending the case. We apologize for the error.