Fired Georgia Captains Seeking $4 Million Each For Conspiracy

Two Georgia fire captains who were terminated last year for their involvement with allegedly harassing a female subordinate have filed separate suits in federal court claiming the woman conspired with the department to violate their Constitutional Rights.

Chuck Foster and Mike Malone filed suits earlier this month naming Cherokee County, Cherokee County Fire Chief Tim Prather, Human Resource Manager Lori Thompson and Cherokee County Manager Jerry Cooper, along with former Cherokee County firefighter Ashley Watson. Foster and Malone are seeking $4 million each.

The facts as alleged in the suits differ from the news coverage, so it is difficult to follow exactly what is going on in this complicated case.

According to Foster’s complaint:

  • During Defendant Watson’s time with the fire department, she was consistently absent from duty for alleged injuries or illnesses.
  • Defendant Watson was disciplined for excessive absences and abuse of sick leave.
  • In 2013, Plaintiff was instructed, by headquarters, to change the language on a previously completed employee evaluation on Defendant Watson, and he complied.
  • Defendant Watson was terminated at the directions of Defendants Thompson, Prather and Cooper.
  • In an effort to regain her job, Defendant Watson conspired with Defendants Thompson, Prather, Cooper and an unidentified political party.
  • As part of the conspiracy, Defendant Watson made false and malicious claims against the Plaintiff.
  • One of her false claims was that Plaintiff had changed her evaluation in retaliation for rejected sexual advances.
  • The claim was false and known to be false by the Defendants.
  • Defendant Watson made other accusations against Plaintiff which were also false.
  • In order to justify giving Watson a job back, the Defendants went through the motions of pretending to do an investigation of Watson’s claims against Plaintiff and other members of the Fire Department.
  • The internal affairs investigation was a farce.
  • There was no real investigation and the results was predestined.
  • At the conclusion of the investigation, Watson was given a job, but without any apparent work, a settlement at tax payer’s expense, and allowed to retire.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  • Foster was accused of sexual harassment, allegations which the lawsuit claims were false and malicious.
  • According to a 256-page report from the county attorney’s office that details the investigation, Malone took a photo in March 2014 of two firefighters engaged in a lewd act while in uniform at station No. 1 along Bells Ferry Road.
  • The photo had been sent to the accuser to cheer her up after she was fired for failing a drug test, officials said in the report.

Foster and Malone claim the named defendants conspired to deprive them of their “constitutional rights to equal protection and due process of law”. They are each seeking $2 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.

Here are copies of the two complaints:

FOSTER v CHEROKEE COUNTY

MALONE v CHEROKEE COUNTY

Here is news coverage about the suits, and earlier coverage of the disciplinary actions.

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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