Florida Court Finds No Gender Discrimination In Promotional Process

A Florida deputy chief who was passed over for promotion to fire chief in 2015 has lost a gender discrimination suit that claimed the position was awarded to a less qualified male.

Deputy Chief Shari Hall claimed that Marion County’s decision to promote another deputy chief, Paul Nevels, was discriminatory because she was far more qualified. Chief Hall, who formerly served with Ocala Fire Rescue, claimed she was better educated and had more EMS related experience than Chief Nevels. For example, Chief Hall was a paramedic and Chief Nevels was not even an EMT.

During the selection process, the county altered the minimum requirements for the fire chief’s position, a move some saw as paving the way for Chief Nevels. Chief Nevels had been serving as fire marshal prior to his promotion and some of his operational credentials had lapsed. Chief Hall and Chief Nevels were the two finalists for the job.

In a ruling handed down last week, Fifth Circuit Court Judge Lisa Herndon granted the county’s motion for summary judgment finding that Chief Hall “has not established that she was ‘substantially more qualified’ than Paul Nevels.”

In addition, Judge Herndon ruled:

“There is no evidence in the record that Mr. Bouyounes [the County Administrator who made the decision] has exhibited bias towards females with respect to hiring decisions. To the contrary, Mr. Bouyounes has appointed females to two Assistant County Administrator positions and two department head positions.”

The Ocala Star Banner quoted Chief Hall’s attorney Edwin Green, as saying: “Obviously we disagree with the Judge’s decision and will be filing an appeal.”

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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