Oregon Fire District Employee Claims Retaliation

An executive assistant who was fired last year by an Oregon fire district has filed suit claiming she was the victim of retaliation for exercising her First Amendment Rights and whistleblowing. Linda Hedlund filed suit last week against the Banks Fire District 13 and Fire Chief Rodney Linz in US District Court for the District of Oregon.

Hedlund, who worked for the district for 24 years, claims that she and others within the department had concerns about some decision-making by Chief Linz relative to his daughter. Hedlund claims that the chief violated “the District’s anti-nepotism policy” by “appointing” his daughter as a volunteer. She further claims he improperly signed her off as having met certain requirements she did not have, and allowed her to join a deployable “conflagration team.”

In the fall of 2018 following a wildland deployment, Hedlund and Training Officer Chris Lanter brought their concerns to the attention of Chief Linz. The suit alleges that during a November 18, 2018 meeting:

  • Chief Linz berated the pair and accused them of insubordination, disregarding the chain of command, and undermining his authority.
  • Chief Linz also alleged that they were trying to stir the pot with other staff because of the Chief’s decision to deploy his daughter on the conflagration team.
  • Chief Linz did not allow either Ms. Hedlund or Mr. Lanter to respond to his accusations, instead requiring them to remain silent throughout the meeting.
  • Upon the meeting’s conclusion, Chief Linz sent both Mr. Lanter and Ms. Hedlund home for the day to contemplate their insubordinate behavior.
  • Shortly after the November 2018 meeting, Ms. Hedlund submitted a letter to the Chief responding to his accusations of insubordination.
  • She explained that she did not feel she was being insubordinate because she felt obliged to bring these concerns regarding Ms. Linz to the Chief’s attention.
  • In her letter, Ms. Hedlund also outlined the policies and regulations she believed Chief Linz had disregarded, including signing off on the task book of a relative, appointing individuals as volunteer firefighters who lacked essential skills and qualifications, and allowing unskilled volunteers to participate in active fire missions.
  • Between November 2018 and March 2019, Chief Linz began to heavily scrutinize Ms. Hedlund’s conduct despite Ms. Hedlund’s performance remaining unchanged.
  • Additionally, Chief Linz started subjecting Ms. Hedlund to constant criticism and would verbally reprimand Ms. Hedlund based upon minor infractions or unfounded accusations that he would not have treated as disciplinary matters before November 2018.
  • On or about March 6, 2019, Chief Linz issued Ms. Hedlund a letter of reprimand.
  • In the letter, the Chief chastised Ms. Hedlund for not following the chain of command, not supporting his decisions with the volunteers and asserted that Ms. Hedlund’s attitude had “increased in negativity.”
  • The Chief also accused Ms. Hedlund of going to board members to share complaints which he characterized as “complaints about his leadership and decisions.”
  • Chief Linz warned Ms. Hedlund that he would not tolerate this type of insubordination and that if she had any District issues, even issues concerning him, she was required to bring those issues directly to his attention.

Nevertheless, Hedlund met with board members in April, 2019 and May, 2019 to discuss her concerns about the chief.  On August 20, 2019, Chief Linz sent Ms. Hedlund a notice of potential termination for her inability to follow the chain of command and insubordination.

On September 3, 2019, she was given a pre-termination meeting and on September 10, 2019 she was terminated.

The lawsuit alleges the district and Chief Linz violated Hedlund’s First Amendment Rights, retaliated against her, and violated Oregon’s whistleblower law, ORS 659A.203.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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