METHUEN — Attorneys for veteran female firefighter Tracy Blanchette filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the city after she was passed over for a promotion granted to a less experienced male firefighter –– a favorite of department brass and City Hall leaders, according to court papers.
The suit, filed Nov. 6 in Essex Superior Court, seeks $2.75 million in damages for back pay, lost wages, pension benefits and emotional distress.
Blanchette also previously filed complaints with the Civil Service Commission and Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination after firefighter Matthew Tulley was promoted to the rank of captain over her in 2019.
A lifelong Methuen resident, Blanchette has been a firefighter/EMT for 27 years, and was hired as the city's first female firefighter. She has worked as an instructor at the state's firefighting academy.
"The City and fire chief's animus and intent are clear," according to the lawsuit. "Complaints filed by (Blanchette) fell on deaf ears — in fact, nobody cared."
"Neither the chief, nor the City Council, or the Mayor, nor her Union nor even the City's designated Equal Opportunity Officer investigated. Instead, they circled the wagons, and openly advocated for the lower-ranked male candidate in order to justify their disparate treatment of this decorated, veteran female firefighter," according to the suit.
Mayor Neil Perry, when reached Tuesday, did not comment on the lawsuit and said the situation arose prior to him becoming city mayor.
Blanchette's attorney, Gary Nolan, was not immediately available for comment.
According to the suit, Blanchette has multiple college degrees, including in fire science, and was previously honored by the Methuen Rotary Club and the state's firefighting academy "in recognition of her life saving efforts at the historic Malden Mills fire."
The Dec.11,1995, fire at Malden Mills completely destroyed three large mill buildings where the company's signature Polartec fabric was produced. More than 200 firefighters battled 50-foot flames during the blaze.
"Those efforts were recognized nationally for setting the standard for EMT response during a catastrophic event," according to the lawsuit.
While on the job nearly three decades and honored, Blanchette remains the lowest rank of private "while almost all of her male peers with similar time on the job have been promoted to higher ranks."
Blanchette, according to the suit, says she was passed over for the captain's promotion for the "lower-ranked male" because he was a "friend of the fire chief's and a member of the city's 'boy's club" who performed better than her during a City Hall interview, according to court papers.
"To date, the city has never appointed a female to the rank of captain or higher," according to the suit.
When Blanchette told Fire Chief John Sheehy she was disappointed, she said he was "dismissive and said, 'You can yell at me, you can be mad, you can even cry if you want,'" according to a section of the lawsuit.
The suit notes Blanchette comes from a "firefighting family." Her dad is a retired Methuen firefighter and her husband a veteran Lawrence firefighter.
While passed over for the promotion, Blanchette continues working but has been ostracized in the department, the lawsuit alleges.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.