Drinking, Sex, Sexual Orientation and Race Discrimination Top Fire Law Headlines

Last week was a very busy week Fire Law-wise. Besides the five headline stories I covered, there were a seemingly endless stream of additional cases that broke. Let’s take a quick look at several of the more important cases that otherwise would have slipped through the cracks.

In Detroit, Deputy Chief Robert Shinske was suspended after a video surfaced showing his fire department SUV parked outside a bar in Dearborn and him walking in. Dave Statter has much more on that case.

A former resident of Hitchcock, Oklahoma has filed suit in federal court claiming residents set his house on fire and the fire department failed to promptly respond and extinguish the fire because he is gay and adopted an African American child. Randy Gamel-Medler claims several residents had been harassing and threatening him for months.

The original complaint was filed in US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in August, but an amended complaint was filed on October 17, 2018. The suit names nine residents of Blaine County: Sheriff Tony Almaguer, Undersheriff David Robertson, Hitchcock Mayor Rick Edsall, Jonita Pauls, Joel “Joey” Pauls, C. Renita Pauls, Meradith Norris, F. Kenny Meier, and G. Patsy Meier.

Gamel-Medler has since moved to Texas. Here is a copy of the complaint: HITCHCOCK OK Gamel-Medler v Pauls

In Florida, a 20-year veteran firefighter claims she was forced to retire after years of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination. Colleen Moore filed suit against the San Carlos Park Fire Protection and Rescue District in US District Court for the Middle District of Florida earlier this month. The suit claims ranking officers made sexist comments to her, stroked her hair, and disciplined her more harshly than her male counterparts. Here is a copy of the complaint: Moore v San Carlos

A Jackson County, Missouri jury has awarded a Kansas City firefighter $356,000 for discrimination in the promotional process for captain. Tarshish “T.J.” Jones claimed he was wrongfully denied a promotion because he is African American. The suit was filed in 2015 in Jackson County Circuit Court in 2015.

Jones took the captain’s exam five times, and according to his complaint was “marked down in his verbal testing because he is African American.” The Kansas City Star quoted Jones as saying:

  • I’ve taken it (the test) five times.
  • Not very many African Americans had been promoted off this list. A lot of us were taking it repeated number of times. Caucasian firefighters were taking it one time and getting promoted, with less seniority and some had less written (exam) scores.”
  • It seemed like it was geared for them to choose who they wanted and discard anyone who they didn’t.”

More on the story.

A judge in Little Rock, Arkansas has ordered a dispatcher to pay the family of a 7-year old who drowned in a delayed response incident, $17.6 million in damages. Candance Middleton, a former Little Rock 911 call taker who mishandled the 911 call in 2013, was ordered to pay the Estate of Le Yang by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox. The City of Little Rock was dismissed from the suit based on immunity. 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.
  • John Bean

    In the Jackson County case, I’d like to see the criteria for score reduction as it relates to verbal “marking down”.

    While it was not contested, I am aware of a promotional exam in which a firefighter had points deducted in his operational module for poor verbal skills. In his defense, he can communicate normally, but has a noticeable speech impediment.

    I wonder if the Jackson case revolved around conveyance of concepts/ideas or auditory acuity.

    • CurtVarone

      Good point. If it is a speech impediment, the ADA would be implicated. The allegations are that it involves race. The scoring system and the validity of how the system evaluates language skills will certainly be subject to scrutiny as the case develops.

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