By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — One of the FDNY chiefs suing Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh over “mental anguish” caused by department leadership’s alleged bullying and harassment of command-level staff is himself accused in legal documents of bullying and harassing a subordinate.
For the past several years, Assistant Chief Michael Massucci has repeatedly “harassed” and “intimidated” FDNY Lt. Timothy Walton, according to a notice of claim filed by Walton and his lawyer with the city’s comptroller’s office.
A notice of claim is a step toward filing a lawsuit with the city.
“This is a classic example of misplaced aggression,” Walton’s lawyer Pete Gleason told the Daily News. “No one deserves to be treated this way.”
Massucci, 59, is one of five FDNY staff chiefs suing Kavanagh and the Fire Department, claiming she and her executive team targeted them “because they were at or near the age of 60,″ according to a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
Kavanagh, the city’s first woman fire commissioner, is at age 40 also one of the city’s youngest commissioners.
The alleged harassment continued with an incident July 11 when Massucci, who was off-duty, caught up with Walton at his workplace at the FDNY’s Bureau of Health Services, according to the notice of claim.
“Massucci had no reason to enter [Walton’s] workspace, but nonetheless [he] entered and said, ‘You can smile at me,’” the notice of claim states. “When [Walton] ignored Massucci’s comment Massucci then said ‘I know you have a hard on for me.’”
The chief then ordered Walton out of his own office — but he blocked the door, according to Walton’s legal filing.
“Fearing Massucci was attempting to initiate a physical confrontation, [Walton] stayed in the office as far from Massucci as possible in such a cramped space,” the notice of claim said.
The chief’s “hard on” comment “has no place in the FDNY workspace,” the notice of claim reads.
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Massucci denies the allegations in the notice of claim.
“This ‘notice of claim’ is a farce,” said Massucci’s lawyer, Jim Walden, who represents Massucci and other chiefs in their suit against the Fire Department.
“It has zero chance of success because the core claim of harassment is false, as several witnesses will attest,” Walden said.
Massucci has faced career woes of his own.
He asked in February to be demoted to deputy chief and returned to a field position after Kavanagh had him transferred from his job as Chief of Uniformed Personnel to the Bureau of Operations, allegedly without cause.
“I have never had any disciplinary issues or complaints filed against me and have been well respected by my subordinates and superiors throughout my career,” Massucci wrote in his request, adding that the transfer was made “without any reasonable explanation, except to state that you are taking the bureau of personnel in a different direction.”
Around the same time last winter, Kavanagh also demoted Assistant Chiefs Michael Gala, 62, Joe Jardin, 61, and Fred Schaaf, 60, as she put together her new leadership team.
Kavanagh’s moves sparked a mass protest by FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens and other chiefs who criticized Kavanagh for making important personnel decisions without the benefit of their knowledge and experience.
Kavanagh hasn’t signed off on any of the demotion requests, FDNY officials said.
During a televised interview with NBC in April, Massucci said that the ongoing strife between Kavanagh and the department’s top leaders has affected him personally.
“The mental anguish it’s caused me and my family, it’s devastating,” the chief said, adding that morale in the firehouses was “very low.”
In his notice of claim, Gleason said Massucci’s public statement “should have prompted FDNY Commissioner Kavanagh to intervene and refer Chief Massucci for a mental health evaluation.”
“Unfortunately, Kavanagh was constrained in assisting Massucci with his mental anguish since according to Massucci Kavanagh was the precipitating factor that induced said mental anguish,” he said. “(She) chose to ignore Massucci’s cry for help on prime time television.”
The FDNY would not comment on the notice of claim. An email to the city Law Department, which defends the city against lawsuits, was not immediately returned.