Texas Court Rejects District Chief’s Appeal

A former district chief with the Beaumont Fire Department who was fired while on disability, has lost the appeal of the dismissal of his lawsuit. Chief Billy Fratus filed suit in 2017 accusing the department of discriminating against him on account of his Hispanic ancestry and for speaking out against harassment in the workplace.

His complaint was dismissed by the 172nd District Court (Jefferson County) and Chief Fratus appealed to the Ninth District Texas Court of Appeals. The court summarized Chief Fratus’ allegations as follows:

  • that Fratus was excluded from certain management meetings;
  • that Beaumont Fire Chief [Anne] Huff did not like that Fratus was the only Hispanic among all the fire chiefs;
  • that Chief Huff had a “dismissive attitude” toward Fratus and excluded him from certain discretionary “perks”;
  • that Chief Huff tried to fire Fratus;
  • that Chief Huff was angry when Fratus was promoted;
  • that Chief Huff “falsely accused [Fratus] of insurance fraud” over equipment that was donated to the department;
  • that Chief Huff fired him while he was on disability; and
  • that the City sent Fratus to a chiropractor chosen by the City during his disability and thereby “interfered with [Fratus’s] relationship with his physician[.]”
  • Fratus also alleged that the City retaliated against him for speaking out against what he believed was Chief Huff’s sexual harassment of another employee, and for disagreeing with Chief Huff’s firing of one employee and her support of another former employee.
  • Fratus’s petition alleged that he appealed his termination and also filed a charge of discrimination and received a “right-to-sue” letter from the Texas Workforce Commission.
  • Fratus also alleged that the City violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) and as a result, the Collective Bargaining Agreement is invalid.

The court of appeals concluded that Chief Fratus’ “pleadings fail to allege a prima facie claim and therefore the trial court did not err in dismissing the case with prejudice.”

Here is a copy of the decision:

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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