Former member alleges discrimination, defamation

A former Delmar EMS captain has filed an amended civil suit against the Delmar Fire Department after a judge dismissed her first attempt.

April Molchan, of Hebron, Maryland, alleges Andrew Rementer, of Delmar, Maryland, touched her inappropriately and that the fire company treated her with hostility after she complained. Charges include discrimination, emotional distress, defamation and battery.

Represented by Wilmington attorney Gary Alderson, Molchan wants compensatory and punitive damages, back and “front pay” and legal costs.

The membership organization includes volunteer firefighters and paid employees and operates independently from town government.

Molchan joined as a volunteer firefighter in 2009 and, as a medic, was a fire company employee. She no longer volunteers for any organization due to her experience.

Rementer was suspended briefly in 2017 due to Molchan’s complaint, but has since been reelected as fire company president.

2015, 2017 incidents

According to court documents, on Sept. 8, 2015, Molchan, then-fire chief Rementer and two officers were returning from a meeting and stopped for lunch in Greenwood.

While seated in the restaurant, Rementer allegedly placed his hand high on the inside of Molchan’s thigh, close to her groin. The lawsuit states that Molchan immediately and forcefully told him to remove his hand, which he did.

Then, on July 30, 2017, while Molchan was on duty as an EMT, she and Rementer were walking through the lounge of the fire company. He placed his hands on her buttocks and then said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that. You’re paid today, not volunteer.”

That was recorded on video.

Lack of policy

After the July 2017 incident, Molchan decided to take action, but she wasn’t sure where to start.

According to the lawsuit, as of July 2017, the fire company had not posted sexual discrimination notices, which are required by law. The department lacked training, policies or any other information about what to do in case of sexual harassment or discrimination.

The department's house committee is responsible for disciplinary action. Knowing that, on Aug. 6, 2017, Molchan went to committee chair Shawn Johnson. She said she was unsure of how to make a complaint and was afraid to “write up” the incident for fear of retaliation. Johnson suggested she email employment committee chair Wade Knapp and Chief Manson Jones.

She did so Aug. 20, 2017, and followed up by leaving a sealed, written complaint in their fire station mailboxes.

Meetings about complaint

Molchan attended a fire company membership meeting Aug. 21, 2017.

When she arrived, Jones pulled her aside and told her that Rementer had just been informed of her complaint and asked to resign as president. As they spoke, Rementer walked by and exchanged a few words with Jones before moving on. When Jones asked Molchan what she “wanted done,” she asked if the conversation could wait until they were in private.

During the meeting, Jones announced to all in attendance that an unnamed employee had submitted an “improper conduct” complaint against Rementer and that he was suspended for no more than 30 days or until the “investigation” was completed.

After the meeting, he questioned Molchan about what happened in July until she told him she was uncomfortable discussing it at that time and place.

She filed a discrimination complaint with the Delaware Department of Labor Aug. 25.

Next, she met with the house committee Aug. 28. Court documents say she was “questioned in a hostile, intrusive, discriminatory, defamatory and accusatory manner, especially once the committee learned that she had ‘gone outside’ the company with her DDOL complaint.”

At the next fire company membership meeting Sept. 6, vice president Joe Morris Jr. presided with more than 50 members present. He directed Johnson to read aloud to everyone Molchan’s letter detailing her complaint. He read it and then the house committee’s report. Johnson confirmed that camera footage proved Molchan’s version and said the house committee recommended expelling Rementer.

Rementer was given a chance to speak. He admitted that he “did it” and said if what he did was “so bad,” considering all the time and service he had given Delmar, he was disappointed in the house committee. He also said that he and Molchan had been “friends for years” and didn’t think she would be offended by him touching her buttocks.

The lawsuit states that Rementer went “on a tirade,” saying that people who know Molchan “know that she likes things done a certain way,” that she has “OCD” and a Type-A personality, that he had “sensed” there was tension between them and that Molchan’s complaint was in retaliation for a previous disagreement.

As he spoke, Molchan wrote in a notebook. At one point he called out, “Go ahead and write this down, too.”

After the meeting, Molchan was “quite shaken, upset, and embarrassed” and felt “she was on trial, not Rementer.”

There was no official action taken at the meeting since Rementer hadn’t been “officially” served with charges.

One-month suspension

The motion to expel was taken up again at the Sept. 18 meeting.

When a member asked if Rementer “had been addressed before” for such behavior, Morris said that Rementer’s history couldn’t be brought up.

However, that line of questioning continued, and a lifetime member asked, “How long are you going to allow [Rementer] to do this? He’s done this for years.”

That member described Rementer’s behavior at a recent event, when he allegedly acted inappropriately towards several women.

Jones stated that he had addressed a similar complaint against Rementer but did not document it.

When the motion to expel Rementer was put to vote, more than half of the membership were in favor. However, the fire company bylaws required a two-thirds majority to expel him because it was his “third offense.” Rementer was not expelled but did resign as president and second-assistant chief.

Calls to the department for clarification on Rementer's alleged prior two offenses were unreturned.

Molchan's suit challenges the two-thirds rule, stating, “Delmar’s bylaws cannot be permitted to emasculate a federal statute enacted to guarantee equal protection to a protected class.”

Less than a month later, Oct. 16, Rementer was appointed chief engineer, returning him to leadership.

In 2018, he was elected lieutenant. In 2019, he was elected president and assistant fire chief. According to the company website, he still holds those positions.

“The manner in which Delmar responded to the complaint was disappointing to say the least. They returned him to the office of president,” said Molchan’s attorney. “That’s a pretty strong message to April or anybody else in her circumstance. They’re apparently not taking it too seriously.”

The lawsuit lays out other occasions Rementer allegedly behaved inappropriately:

At a Sept. 18, 2017 meeting, then-chief Manson Jones described a 2016 incident in which Rementer had been “counseled” by previous fire company leadership related to inappropriately touching another member’s wife and minor step-daughter. It was not investigated. There was no disciplinary action. The nonmember boyfriend of another female member supposedly confronted Rementer because he had placed both of his hands on her buttocks and run them up and down. This allegedly occurred around the same time as Molchan’s 2017 incident. No official complaint was made. Around that time, a female Delmar paramedic “had to tell Rementer repeatedly to keep his hands off her” due to many incidents of inappropriate touching. A fire company officer told Molchan he had seen Rementer “flirting” and acting inappropriately with a 14-year old female EMS patient.

Termination

The department adopted a new bylaw Dec. 18, 2017, prohibiting volunteer members from being employed by the department: “Members who want to apply for employment must first resign before submitting the application." So Molchan was terminated as an EMT Dec. 27 by employment committee chair Keith Abbott.

According to the lawsuit, this “was simply a pretext to terminate Molchan” and was not applied to any other volunteer members who were employed by the department.

The lawsuit states that a male member-employee was allowed to choose between resigning membership and continuing employment, while Molchan was not, and that that man was allowed to continue in both positions anyway.

However, the fire company’s attorney’s response to this notes that, in an email directing an administrative assistant to remove Molchan from the payroll, Abbott also instructed the assistant to remove himself and Roland Morris, both of whom the new bylaw affected.

In January 2018, Molchan submitted a second complaint to the Department of Labor, alleging she was terminated in retaliation for filing her original complaint. The Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission both later issued “right to sue” notices on both complaints.

To court in 2019

Alderson first filed in court against the Delmar Fire Department, the Town of Delmar and Rementer in January 2019. The suit alleged discrimination, emotional distress and battery. A year later, U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika dismissed the case for several reasons.

The charge of discrimination applies only to the court’s definition of “employer,” and Noreika interpreted that to exclude Rementer. In addition, the judge didn’t find the two incidents in which Rementer inappropriately touched Molchan to be sufficiently “severe or pervasive.”

She found the fire company’s handling of the matter less than discriminatory, since they “launched an investigation,” suspended Rementer, recommended expelling him and held a vote.

The claims of emotional distress and battery were dismissed because a federal court, has jurisdiction only if the defendant and plaintiff live in different states. Though Rementer lived in Delaware at the time of the incidents, both Molchan and Rementer lived in Maryland by 2019.

Alderson filed a new suit Feb. 4. It argues that “a contemporary 2020 application of ‘common sense’ and ‘appropriate sensitivity to social context’ should lead to the conclusion that any contact to another’s private areas is prohibited by and therefore actionable” under the law.

The new lawsuit dropped Rementer and the Town of Delmar as defendants.

“It really wasn’t necessary to name Rementer as a party because he is … very much an agent of the Delmar Fire Department, for whom they have responsibility and therefore liability,” Alderson said. “We mistakenly thought originally that [the Town of Delmar] was also an employer, in addition to the fire company. It turned out they were just managing their payroll.”

However, Alderson added a new charge – defamation.

The fire company’s “inability or unwillingness to take the appropriate action against Rementer has also caused Molchan to have to defend herself against those in the community who believe that because nothing was done to Rementer that Molchan made a false complaint,” the lawsuit states.

The company’s lawyer submitted a motion to dismiss Feb. 19. The judge’s response could take months.

Response to lawsuit

Calls to the fire company were not returned, but one of Rementer’s lawyers, Robin Cockey, issued a statement: “Mr. Rementer will not comment on the facts of the case or upon the social policies advanced by Civil Rights laws. A court of law will determine the facts and apply principles of law to achieve a just outcome. The Court has already thrown this case out once. Ms. Molchan has refiled the case in what we believe will be an unsuccessful attempt to salvage her untenable claims. Once again the Fire Department has asked the Court to rule that Ms. Molchan was not sexually harassed, and the Fire Company believes the Court will apply the law to the evidence to reach the same determination it reached before, and once again through the case out.”

Alderson, who is himself a volunteer firefighter, said that regardless of what happens in court, volunteer firefighters “vote with their feet.”

“It’s a volunteer organization. You can come and go as you will. When they see these unsavory type situations, rather than raising a fuss they go home, and then we lose them,” he said. “It’s unknown how many that applies to in Delmar but it applies to at least one. Molchan was very active as a volunteer and an employee and they lost her.”