Portland Settles Suit with Firefighter for $93,000

The City of Portland, Oregon has agreed to settle a suit filed by a former firefighter-paramedic for $93,000. Gabriel A. Watson filed suit last year seeking in excess of $1.2 million in damages over a “medical layoff” in 2020.

Watson’s 68 page complaint lists 18 separate claims for relief ranging from disability discrimination to breach of contract. Named in the suit are the fire chief, the chief of professional standards, the chief of operations, and several HR employees. Quoting from the complaint:

  • On or about December 13th of 2019, Watson experienced a sudden onset of diminished level of consciousness while working at Portland Fire and Rescue Station 18.
  • Watson was transported to Emanuel Hospital where Doctors performed a series of tests, ruling out a number of causes, including illegal or other drugs. Doctors ordered that Watson rest for 7-10 days before returning to work.
  • On or about December 16th, two days after the event at work, Watson visited his personal physician at Kaiser Permanente, the doctor reviewed the emergency records from Emanuel Hospital and cleared Watson to return to work.
  • Watson informed the City that he was cleared to return to work.
  • Watson completed forms for workers’ compensation and disability. But the City of Portland informed Watson that he was being placed on paid administrative leave. For an investigation.
  • At the City’s request, Watson was evaluated by the City’s doctor. After completing a series of psychological evaluations and providing his complete medical records to the City’s doctor, the doctor cleared Watson to return to work.
  • The City simply ignored the reports of doctors and the clearance of Watson to return to work.
  • Instead, Keith Hathorne reported to supervisors that “Watson is refusing to cooperate” and expressed his intent to ‘medically lay off’ Watson.
  • Hathorne repeated his request several times, and the City further joined his scheme.
  • Instead of allowing Watson to resume his work employment with the City, the City terminated his employment. Using “medical layoff” as the reason.

Watson, who is an attorney himself, filed the suit pro se. OregonLive has much more on the back story surrounding the case and the settlement. It quotes Watson as saying:

  • Even getting $1 would’ve been enough recognition that the city was responsible.
  • The most eye-opening, shocking thing about all of it is that I’m a middle-aged white, married, guy with a law degree — if the city would wantonly do that to me, I can’t imagine what they’d do to others.

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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