Roanoke Sex in Station Suit Dismissed

The epic case of Roanoke fire captain Dennis Croft turned another page last week with a Federal court ruling dismissing his sex discrimination lawsuit.

Captain Croft was fired back in 2010 after his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Van Ness, told fire department investigators that she had sex with him in the fire station while he was on duty.  The couple had recently parted ways and Van Ness herself was under investigation for misconduct.

A city grievance panel reinstated Croft but demoted him to lieutenant. Van Ness, a city EMT who was off duty at the time of the incident, was given a written reprimand.

The case prompted several law suits by Croft, including a constitutional challenge over the make-up of the grievance committee, a state court suit against the Van Ness for defamation, and the Federal court sex discrimination suit. In the Federal suit, Croft alleged he was treated differently in terms of the investigation and discipline because of his gender. Here is a copy of the complaint. Croft v Roanoke

The court acknowledged that Croft was able to present evidence that the investigation was flawed, but concluded that a flawed investigation alone does not constitute gender discrimination.

While Croft may have legitimate argument as to the adequacy of the internal investigation or the fairness of the outcome, the evidence proffered by Croft is insufficient to establish that gender, or any other protected trait, actually played a role in the City’s decision making process and had a determinative influence on the outcome.

The court also rejected Croft’s argument that the difference in the penalties (Croft’s termination versus Van Ness’s reprimand) was proof of discrimination:

Croft was the commanding officer, responsible for enforcing Fire Department policies and rules, and “therefore was naturally expected to set an example by following the rules himself.” Id. In contrast, Van Ness was not assigned to Station No.4 and was off duty at the time of the incident, having already completed her shift as a part-time EMT. The court agrees with the City that the differences in their positions make the purported comparison in this case far “too loose” to establish a prima facie case of discrimination.

Here is a copy of the court’s decision.  Croft Decision

No word on whether an appeal is planned.  More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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