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Former Falls officer files suit accusing city of age discrimination

Former Niagara Falls policeman Mark L. Feldhousen sued the city last week, charging it with age discrimination in allegedly forcing him out of his job.

The suit made no mention of Feldhousen's arrest, indictment and conviction for assaulting his former girlfriend, which may also have played a role in his departure after 40 years on the police force.

"We think he was on his way out long before the criminal case came up," Feldhousen's attorney, Jon R. Wilson of Lockport, said in an interview last week.

The assault occurred Nov. 12, 2010. But the suit charges that in April 2010, Feldhousen, who was 58 at the time, was transferred from the Police Department's Traffic Division to an administrative position in the command area.

There, "he was ordered not to perform any official police functions," the lawsuit charges.

The suit says that on Sept. 9, 2010, Feldhousen was ordered to undergo a psychological and neurological exam, "ostensibly under the guise of a fitness for duty examination."

On Oct. 5, 2010, Feldhousen filed the first of three discrimination complaints with Ruby Pulliam, the city's equal employment opportunity officer for compliance and workplace diversity. Further complaints were filed Oct. 19 and 21. The suit says the city investigated none of the complaints.

"Many of the events we claim came up in the course of his employment occurred before there were any criminal complaints against him," Wilson said.

A month after Feldhousen's assault arrest, the city began a civil service proceeding aimed at ousting Feldhousen from the force.

After Feldhousen was convicted of third-degree assault by a Niagara County Court jury May 3, 2011, his retirement papers took effect May 20.

Police Superintendent John R. Chella said at the time that Feldhousen had filed retirement papers before the trial started, apparently intending to withdraw them if he was acquitted.

By filing those papers, Feldhousen protected his pension and his city-paid lifetime health insurance.

Chella and Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

Wilson said Feldhousen had to seek a "right to sue" letter from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Buffalo office of the EEOC issued that letter Jan. 24, giving Feldhousen 90 days to sue the city. The suit was filed Tuesday, which was the 90th day.

Wilson said the suit may be amended to claim disability discrimination, but he wouldn't say what disability Feldhousen, now 60, allegedly had.

The suit mentions that Feldhousen took a leave of absence for health reasons in 2003 but offers no details.

Wilson said Feldhousen, who was sentenced to three years' probation, is still pursuing an appeal of his criminal conviction.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com