Religious Discrimination Claims Against Puerto Rico Fire Department Stayed

A religious discrimination lawsuit filed by a firefighter in Puerto Rico has been stayed pursuant to a special law enacted to stabilize Puerto Rico’s economic situation. Danny James-Febo filed suit against the Negociado del Cuerpo de Bomberos de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Fire Department), several supervisors, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in US District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.

James-Febo, a firefighter since 1996, claims the Commonwealth and his superiors refused his repeated requests to accommodate his need for time off on Sundays between 10:00am and noon. The requested time off was necessary to allow James-Febo to attend to certain ministerial duties he had as an ordained minister and pastor. The lawsuit contends the Commonwealth violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to accommodate his religious needs, committing religious discrimination, and by retaliating against him. It seeks $600,000 in damages.

US District Court Judge Paul M. Marxuach concluded he was powerless to consider James-Febo’s complaint on its merits due to the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). Enacted by Congress in 2016, the law stays all civil litigation against the Commonwealth that seeks a monetary award. Judge Marxuach explained the process to seek relief from the stay:

  • There are several steps a moving party must take before filing a “Stay Relief Motion” from an automatic stay against the Commonwealth.
  • In a nutshell, an interested party must first notify the Financial Control Board’s attorneys via e-mail fifteen (15) days prior to filing an action requesting relief from the stay.
  • A moving party must notify both their intent to seek relief from the stay, called a “Lift Stay Notice”, and the notice period, which is called a “Lift Stay Notice Period.”
  • During the “Lift Stay Notice Period,” the Debtors and movant shall meet and attempt to resolve the movant’s request for relief.
  • Only if the Debtors disagree with the movant’s request for relief or if the “Lift Stay Notice Period” expires before both sides can reach an agreement, can the movant then file a “Stay Relief Motion” in accordance with the Case Management Procedures.
  • The automatic stay applies to this case regarding Plaintiff’s request for monetary damages.
  • The case is thus stayed pursuant to 48 U.S.C. §2161 and 11 U.S.C. §§ 362 and 922.
  • If the stay is lifted, the parties shall inform the Court within seven (7) days.

Here is a copy of the decision:

Here is a copy of the original 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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