Fired Arizona Firefighter Claims Sexual Harassment and Disability Discrimination

A probationary firefighter who claims he was sexually harassed and denied an accommodation for his psychological conditions has filed suit alleging sexual harassment and disability discrimination. Johnathan Schaupp filed suit today in US District Court against the City of Casa Grande Fire Department.

Schaupp identified himself in the complaint as a “disabled veteran and [who] suffers from depression, bi-polar disorder, and anxiety, which are service-connected disabilities” who “takes prescription medication to aid his mental health issues.” Quoting from the complaint:

  • CGFD was aware of Plaintiff’s disabilities and the prescription medications he was required to take but did not offer any accommodations and did not even offer to have a discussion regarding Plaintiff’s possible needs.
  • After graduation in or around early December 2019, Plaintiff was placed on rotation among four stations.
  • Plaintiff’s rotation started at Station 501 where he was stationed for three months.
  • During his time at Station 501, Plaintiff was subjected to a variety of hazing and harassing behavior and treatment.
  • In one instance, Plaintiff’s fellow firefights drew a phallic image on Plaintiff’s driver’s license, which they found in Plaintiff’s wallet that was in his room.
  • Plaintiff also had to deal with a senior officer who called Plaintiff a “clit” because he believed Plaintiff was too sensitive.
  • Another example of the harassing behavior and treatment is a senior officer at Station 501 who ridiculed Plaintiff about his sex life with his wife.
  • Plaintiff notified his Captain about these issues and the consistent sexual harassment he was subject to while working at Station 501.
  • Plaintiff’s concerns were not address. Instead, he was asked to drop these issues after he told his Captain about them.
  • CGFD’s culture was not open to reporting issues to Human Resources and discouraged individuals, including Plaintiff, from reporting the issues to CGFD Human Resources.
  • In fact, Plaintiff was reprimanded by a fellow firefighter about going directly to the Captain about the issues and was told to first discuss matters with a senior firefighter in order to prevent breach of the chain of command.
  • Plaintiff had no issues at the other rotations like those he experienced at Station 501 and successfully completed his work at the other rotations.
  • Plaintiff’s fourth and final station was back to Station 501.
  • Upon Plaintiff’s return to Station 501, the hazing and harassment he previously endured resumed.
  • In or around November 2020, Plaintiff approached his senior officer to discuss these continuing issues.
  • On or about November 25, 2020, a senior firefighter, J.C. Holliday, who had perpetrated much of the harassment threatened to fight Plaintiff due to a simple misunderstanding regarding a matter not directly related to work.
  • These actions by the senior firefighter were completely unprovoked by Plaintiff and Plaintiff appropriately responded to the senior firefighter.
  • That same day, Plaintiff had informed Holliday and William Stevenson that something seemed off with his medications. No action was taken by CGFD to assist Plaintiff with this issue.
  • Even though Plaintiff did nothing wrong, this incident was used as a rationale to extend Plaintiff’s probation and give management further opportunity to terminate Plaintiff before he was off probation.
  • In or around December 2020, a radio went missing, by no fault of Plaintiff, while Plaintiff was assigned to an ambulance with a fellow firefighter, Mr. Jose Serrano.
  • During the investigation for the missing radio, a Captain informed Plaintiff that he would not be terminated due to the lost radio.
  • Plaintiff continued to be harassed and subject to a hostile work environment due to his reports of sexual harassment.
  • Upon information and belief, Plaintiff’s managers wanted to terminate Plaintiff due to his reports of sexual harassment.
  • After the investigation, Plaintiff was incorrectly blamed for the loss of the radio and was disciplined for that baseless allegation.
  • Upon information and belief, the actions taken against Plaintiff were due to his reports of discrimination and harassment.
  • In or around January 2021, CGFD terminated Plaintiff’s employment.

The suit alleges a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title VII retaliation. Here is a copy of the complaint:

Those who have been through the Leadership Case Studies: Respect in the Workplace program, the facts of this case are a textbook example of what fire officers today have to be prepared to deal with.

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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