Florida Fire Department Accused of Military Discrimination

A former firefighter in Florida has filed suit claiming he was terminated because of his military service. Chris Merrell filed suit last week against the City of Clermont Fire Department under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) and Florida’s version known as Florida Uniformed Servicemembers Protection Act (FUSPA).

Merrell was terminated on September 12, 2018 shortly after failing a skills test. He claims his military service in the Marine Corp Reserve caused him to miss some trainings, and that the city refused to allow a make-up. According to the complaint:

  • Due to his military obligations, Mr. Merrell had to miss several largescale training events during his time with CCFD.
  • In August 2018, as a result of missing out on the training events, etc., and as a result of inadequate training by his Lieutenant, Mr. Merrell unfortunately (and unsurprisingly, in light of missing the prior training events) failed a skills test.
  • Around this same time, one of CCFD’s supervisors, and Engineer, pulled Mr. Merrell aside.
  • CCFD’s supervisor asked Mr. Merrell, “how serious are you about the fire service? You are missing a great deal of work to go train with your Marine Corps Reserve Unit.”
  • In response, Mr. Merrell told CCFD’s supervisor that he was serious about the job, and reminded this individual that there are laws in place to prevent him from being punished for missing work because of his military commitments.
  • Nevertheless, shortly thereafter, on September 12, 2018, rather than provide Mr. Merrell a make-up skills test or an extension of his so-called “probationary period” or any other sort of remediation or mitigation, CCFD abruptly terminated Mr. Merrell’s employment.

The suit was filed in Lake County Circuit Court. 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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