EAST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A former East Haven firefighter and battalion chief filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the East Haven Fire Department (EHFD) on Tuesday.

The lawsuit alleges that East Haven fire officials attempted to prevent the plaintiff, Eileen Parlato, from becoming its first female firefighter about 30 years ago.

It also accuses the department of engaging in a sexist campaign to squash Parlato’s efforts to be promoted to assistant chief, in favor of an “objectively far-less qualified” man, according to the press release.

Parlato’s lawsuit said that the campaign against her was spearheaded by EHFD’s Chief. The campaign allegedly included a series of misconduct, including that:

  • The chief falsely told the Board of Fire Commissioners that he knew of no internal candidate interested in the role when Parlato had clearly expressed her interest
  • The chief changed the format of the assistant chief exam from written to only oral, making the process more subjective, and then hand-picking people to sit on the panel for the presentations
  • The panel chosen by the chief deviated from the approval list of questions during its interview of the male candidate
  • The panel assisted the male candidate during his interview by providing him with supportive information when he struggled
  • EHFD denied Parlato the opportunity to be considered by the Board and claimed that its denial was based in part on her “lack of fire department leadership experience”

Parlato’s lawsuit also noted that at the time when the EHFD promoted a man to assistant chief over Parlato, the male candidate only had 11 months of experience as a battalion chief. Parlato had served as a battalion chief for 16 years.

The Town of East Haven’s attorney issued a statement to News 8 regarding the lawsuit:

“It is unfortunate that Ms. Parlato is choosing to end her career in this fashion. The process to select our Assistant Chief was largely based upon the unbiased evaluations of an outside independent panel.  It is simply shameful that Ms. Parlato and her lawyer now choose to attack our department, a department which has supported numerous Parlato family members for years.  What we have found in dealing with Parlato’s lawyer is that she is long on using extreme, incorrect, and dramatized facts about our Town, but is very short on her ability to evaluate, and then properly apply the law—this not only hurts our community, but her client as well. Relevant facts matter, and as this litigation unfolds the record will unmistakably reflect that it was not the Town that attempted to manipulate this process.  After receiving a letter from Parlato’s lawyer, we immediately responded.  Not only did we dispute her ill-conceived facts and threats, but we also demanded that a litigation hold be placed to preserve all Parlato’s correspondence related to this matter. 

Undoubtedly, it is always best to avoid litigation when possible, however, when forced onto this path, no stone can be left unturned. If anyone has followed anything over the last three years in East Haven, they can see that our Town employs some of the finest labor and litigation attorneys in the Northeast. We are on sound legal ground in this matter, and we will defend it accordingly.”

– Michael J. Luzzi, attorney for the Town of East Haven

Parlato’s attorney, Nina Pirrotti, responded to Luzzi’s comments saying:

“It appears that in an attempt to deflect attention away from the disturbing facts alleged in this lawsuit, the Town has resorted to baseless and personal attacks on the lawyer who assisted in bringing these allegations to light. Conspicuously absent from the Town attorney’s rhetoric is any refutation of the key facts alleged in Ms. Parlato’s complaint.”