Georgia Firefighter Sues Claiming Whistleblower Retaliation Over LODD Complaints

A Georgia firefighter who was terminated after he complained about the actions of the fire chief at the scene of a fire that killed a fire lieutenant, has filed suit against the chief, the fire department and other local officials.

William Jordan claims his termination from the Waycross Fire Department in 2016 was a thinly veiled attempt to retaliate against him for speaking out against Fire Chief David E. Eddings. Jordan claims that Chief Eddings decision to send firefighters into a condemned, vacant building that was on fire on December 15, 2013 led to the death of Lt. Jeff Little.

Lt. Little’s widow, Diane Little, filed a wrongful death suit in 2015 in which she claims that Chief Eddings ordered FF Roger Summerall to enter the December 15, 2013 fire out of malice, and that Lt. Little accompanied FF Summerall so he would not have to enter alone.

That suit alleges Chief Eddings harbored ill-will against Summerall as well as Jordan for filing a complaint against him in 2011 for disparate treatment. In 2012, Chief Eddings attempted to fire Jordan, but Jordon was reinstated through the assistance of legal counsel. Here is more on Diane Little’s suit.

Jordan’s filed yesterday suit accuses the City of Waycross, Chief Eddings, HR Manager Trinija Molina-Martin, and City Manager Raphel Maddox of violating of Georgia’s Whistleblower Protection Act, O.C.G.A. § 41-5-4(a)(3), as well as violations of Jordan’s First Amendment Rights; procedural and substantive due process rights; and retaliation. It alleges the Jordan’s termination was pretextual, and in retaliation for his speaking out about Lt. Little’s death.

Here is a copy of the complaint: JORDAN v WAYCROSS

For those interested in a more detailed explanation of the complicated facts without reading the complaint, the following is taken from the complaint:

  • On … December 15, 2013, a building located at 1005 Isabella Street in Waycross, Georgia, caught fire.
  • This building on Isabella Street had been condemned by the City of Waycross in or around 2005, and remained condemned up to and including December 15, 2003.
  • The City of Waycross Fire Department responded to the fire.
  • Plaintiff Jordan was one of the firefighters on duty that evening, and was a member of the squad that responded to this fire.
  • After firefighters arrived on the scene, they determined that the home was unoccupied and that no persons were inside the building. Thus, the building had been “cleared” by the firefighters.
  • Accepted firefighting protocol and procedures preclude allowing firemen to enter a burning building when it has been determined that the building is unoccupied.
  • Instead, the firemen should fight the fire from the outside of the building to prevent the fire from spreading.
  • Chief Eddins ordered members of the Waycross Fire Department to enter the burning building.
  • At the time Eddins gave this order, the building had been cleared for some time. The order was completely unjustified, and contrary to rules, regulations, and standard operating procedures applicable to the City of Waycross Fire Department.
  • In response to the order of Fire Chief Eddins, members of the firefighting squad, including Lieutenant Little, entered the burning building.
  • The roof of the burning building collapsed, trapping Lieutenant Little under debris. A call of “firefighter down” was issued, and the squad went into rescue mode.
  • Jordan, who participated in the rescue attempts, received severe injury to both his right and left shoulders in trying to free Lieutenant Little from the collapsed and burning debris.
  • Despite the heroic efforts of Jordan and other members of the Waycross Fire Department to save his live, Jeff Little died as a direct result of the injuries he sustained when the condemned burning building collapsed and trapped him.
  • The injuries sustained by Jordan in the rescue attempt forced him to be on medical leave, commencing on December 15, 2013.
  • The circumstances of Lieutenant Little’s death caused great concern within the Waycross Fire Department. Specifically, but not by way of limitation, members of the Waycross Fire Department questioned why the firefighters were ordered to enter condemned building, when no people were in the building, and it had been cleared.
  • Jordan was of the opinion that Little’s death would have been prevented by following accepted firefighting protocol. Jordan questioned the wisdom of Chief Eddins’ order to require firefighters to enter the condemned building to fight the fire.
  • The concern over the manner of Little’s death was so prevalent within the department that Chief Eddins issued a “gag order” to members of the fire department.
  • Chief Little’s “gag order” includes the fol1owing mandate:
  • In the last few days, I have been hearing about different rumors and opinions being floated around the department concerning the fire on IsabelJa Street and the devastating death of Lt. Little. There is no doubt that this has sent shockwaves throughout the department and created a lot of concern and confusion, that is only natural. I wished I had answers to give each of you but I do not. However, I will not sit idly by and let anyone give false information, spread harmful rumors, state unfounded and harmful opinions or make any statements that are totally out of line. This is to stop immediately.
  • When representatives of NIOSH came to Waycross, Chief Eddins prevented members of the Waycross Fire Department from actually speaking with NIOSH investigators at that time.
  • Despite Chief Eddins December 30, 2013 “gag order,” Jordan continued to question the circumstances of Lieutenant Little’s death.
  • In the early summer of 2015, Jordan requested Dwayne Garrison, the Chief Fire Marshall for the State of Georgia, to investigate the incident.
  • Jordan also requested the Georgia Fire Commission to investigate the incident, and made reports Chief Gordon Henderson of the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council regarding the incident.
  • Jordan also spoke with Lieutenant Little’s widow, regarding the circumstances of her husband’s death. Prior to this conversation, no one from the Waycross Fire Department or the City of Waycross had explained these circumstances to Mrs. Little.
  • Representatives of the City of Waycross, including Chief Eddins, knew that Mr. Jordan had spoken with Mrs. Little. They gained knowledge of this conversation before Mr. Jordan was terminated.
  • As noted above, Jordan sustained serious injury to both shoulders in his attempts to rescue Little from the collapsed building.
  • As a result, Jordan was placed in a non-work status for approximately for the City of Waycross from approximately March 19, 2015 to March 28, 2016.
  • Despite the fact that Jordan had maintained the appropriate level of training hours, through attendance at training classes, the City claimed that his firefighter certification had lapsed during his medical leave.
  • The first notification Jordan received of this alleged lapse in certification was on March 29, 2016, during a meeting with David E. Eddins and Defendant Trinija Molina-Martin. At that time, these Defendants read a letter to Plaintiff.
  • In this letter, Ms. Martin informed Jordan that would be given only one chance to retake the necessary exam the City of Waycross deemed necessary for Jordan’s reinstatement. The letter stated as follows:
  • You will be given an opportunity to retake the basic Firefighter I written exam and the requisite remedial training required to have your state firefighter certification reinstated and subsequently be restored to your previous position of certified firefighter. Your written exam is scheduled for Thursday, March 31, 2016 at the GFSTC Office in Forsyth, GA. This is the only test date you will be given; I encourage you to do your best.
  • Defendant Molina-Martin demanded that Mr. Jordan sign this letter. Mr. Jordan did not sign this letter, having been advised by an attorney that he should not sign any document presented to him by the City unless and until he had the opportunity to have an attorney review the letter. Plaintiffs attorney was in court at the time, and was not available for consultation until after 5:00 p.m.
  • Jordan explained this to Defendant Molina-Martin. Nevertheless, she indicated on the form that Mr. Jordan had “refused to sign” the letter.
  • Jordan was able to consult with his attorney, and after this consultation, Jordan was advised to go to the City offices the next morning, and sign the letter, which he attempted to do.
  • Subsequently, on March 30, 2016, Ms. Molina-Martin authored a letter to Mr. Jordan, terminating his employment with the City of Waycross, purportedly because he “refused the City’s offer of temporary work assignment until [he] regained his certification;” refused to “take the test that was scheduled for you March 31, 2016;” and refused “to sign the letter acknowledging the City’s offer.”
  • This representations made in this letter were false, and were created as a pretext for terminating Mr. Jordan’s employment with the City of Waycross.
  • Plaintiff, through his attorney, made a written request for reinstatement.
  • This request was denied.
  • The Plaintiff thereafter requested a due process hearing as provided in the Personnel Handbook of the City of Waycross. The City denied this request, on the grounds that the Plaintiff had “resigned.”
  • Upon information and belief, the aforementioned actions of Defendant Molina-Martin were taken with in consultation with, at the direction of, and/or with the approval of Defendant Eddins and Defendant Maddox.
  • In fact, Mr. Jordan was terminated for reporting his concerns regarding the death of Jeff Little, to the State Fire Marshall, the Georgia Fire Commission, and the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council.

Here is a copy of the suit by Mrs. Little: Little v. Guinovart

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.
  • mr618

    IF the facts are even close to what you’ve said, it would seem to me to be a slam dunk for the plaintiff.

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