Ohio Firefighter Files Discrimination Claim Over Nazi Salute

An Ohio firefighter who claims he was disciplined in retaliation for complaining about members giving a Nazi salute to the fire chief, has filed a formal complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Firefighter Paul Way, a 28 year veteran of the Shawnee Township Fire Department, was terminated last December for abusing his sick leave. He was observed to have been drinking beer in a sports bar while off sick on September 12, 2012 and again on September 14, 2012.

The sick leave was taken just days after Way had been demoted from platoon chief to firefighter for what has been characterized by the department as his spreading negative information within the department via emails. He received a written warning about the emails in July of 2012.

Way’s attorney, Fazeel Khan, claims his client was wrongfully terminated over relatively minor disciplinary offenses in retaliation for his complaints about blatantly offensive and discriminatory conduct with the department. He claims that Fire Chief Todd Truesdale is routinely given a “Heil Hitler” salute by members of the department, and was once given a cake adorned with a Swastika. That cake included small figurines that were “marching into an oven”.

Way and his attorney have provided the EEOC with a number of photos of members giving Chief Truesdale the salute (exhibit A, exhibit B), as well as photos of the Swastika cake as proof of what he alleges is occurring. They claim the department discriminates against religious minorities, homosexuals and women.

According to attorney Khan “We believe Mr. Way was targeted, harassed and treated unjustly simply for his opposition to discriminatory practices and a general culture of bigotry rampant at the Fire Department.”

However, platoon Chief John Norris provided an entirely different version of events to reporters from Channel 4 in Columbus earlier this month. Chief Norris claims that  Way was the one who started Nazi salute for Chief Truesdle. Quoting from a transcript of the Channel 4 interview:

Norris: "Mr. Way started this over 10 years ago as a joke against his shift officer, who is now the chief of the department."

Norris also claims that it was Paul Way who instigated the "Heil Hitler" salutes

As for this cake, which is now part of the EEOC complaint, Norris says it is 10 years old. He admits it was made for Todd Truesdale, before he was chief, and claims Paul Way was instrumental in acquiring it.

Norris: "Everybody knew he was not happy at all with that. And chief has told me that right after that, he talked to Mr. Way in regards to that being inappropriate and that was to never happen again."

Way denies Chief Norris’s claims. The EEOC filing is a necessary predicate to filing a discrimination claim in court.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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