Nashville Medic Alleges He Was Wrongfully Forced to Resign

A Nashville paramedic who resigned earlier this year, has filed suit claiming the city retaliated against him for documenting the failure of Davidson County jail personnel to follow the law related to the right of inmates to refuse medical transport. Adam Thomas filed suit against the Nashville Fire Department in Davidson County Circuit Court.

The facts are complicated, but center around three key events: (1) two responses to Davidson County Jail on January 23, 2024; (2) Thomas’ agreement to substitute for another medic on January 26, 2024 in exchange for her agreement to work for him on February 16, 2024; and (3) his failure to show up for work on February 16, 2024. Each raise important legal questions.

  1. The Response to Davidson County Jail on January 23, 2024

Thomas, an experienced EMS provider with the Goodlettsville Fire Department, was hired by Nashville as a medic in October, 2023. He was dispatched to the Davidson County Jail on January 23, 2024 for an inmate suffering from high blood pressure. The inmate declined treatment or transport, but the nurse on-duty at the jail insisted that he be transported. Quoting from the complaint:

  • The nurse at the scene explicitly stated to the patient that he had no right to refuse care and transport due to his status as an inmate.
  • Plaintiff informed the nurse that he believed the inmate had the right to refuse care.
  • The nurse responded to Plaintiff and said “absolutely not” and that he has no authority to make medical and transport decisions not because he is mentally incompetent, but because he is an inmate.
  • Plaintiff eventually acquiesced to the nurse’s demands and transported the inmate to the hospital.
  • After dropping off the patient at the hospital, Plaintiff called his direct supervisor, District Chief Hal Bowden, and asked him if inmates at the jail have the right to refuse care.
  • Chief Bowden said he did not know if inmates have the right to refuse care.
  • Chief Bowden then told Plaintiff he would call his supervisor and ask if inmates have the right to refuse care.
  • Chief Bowden then told Plaintiff to document everything thoroughly in his report.
  • After the call, Plaintiff double checked the relevant laws to confirm his belief that the inmate did have authority to refuse care.
  • Upon confirming the coerced treatment was illegal, while at the hospital, Plaintiff informed the patient of his findings and apologized that his wishes were not met.
  • For the last call for Plaintiff’s 11 hour shift, he and his partner received another call to the Davidson county jail.
  • Again, the patient was refusing care, and the nurse insisted he did not have the right to refuse care.
  • While the nurse and Plaintiff were arguing over if the inmate had the right to refuse care, a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s office stepped in and said “we are conservators of the patient, you have to take him.”
  • Plaintiff responded and said “you are not conservators. You are custodians.”
  • The Sheriff responded and said “you do not know what you’re doing.”
  • The Sheriff then said part of their contract with the Nashville Fire Department was that NFD was required to transport every inmate for whom they call NFD to transport.
  • The Sheriff then said if you do not transport the patient, we will call your supervisor and get someone to come who will transport the patient.
  • The Plaintiff insisted the Sheriff cannot coerce care.
  • The Sheriff went on to say we have always done this, that we have been doing it this way for years.
  • Plaintiff responded and said “well you’ve been doing something illegal for years.”
  • Plaintiff then attempted to call Chief Bowden again, but was unable to get ahold of him.
  • The patient then interjected into the argument and said “if you all will just shut up, I will go ahead and go to the hospital.” Consequently, Plaintiff and his partner went ahead and transported the patient.
  • Plaintiff texted Chief Bowden at 5:21am to tell him one of the lieutenants tried to say they were conservators of the inmate, to which Chief Bowden replied “yeah no.”
  • Also at approximately 5:21am Plaintiff texted Chief Bowden several of the laws and regulations he looked up after the call, to which Chief Bowden responded: “I think you are right on this. Until they can provide documentation that states otherwise, the prisoners have certain rights. Same as any refusal, we have to assess them. If they have capacity, then they can make decisions. The only time where that may not apply is on specific psychiatric situations….or maybe if there is a safety issue toward the staff and other prisoners.”
  • Plaintiff’s report thoroughly documented the argument he had with the nurse regarding the first inmate.
  • Plaintiff’s report also included the relevant laws indicating he believed he, his department, and the sheriff’s office, were violating the law in forcing the inmate to receive care.
  • Plaintiff’s report also indicated he apologized to the patient for violating his rights.

(2) The Substitution on January 26, 2024

Thomas reached an agreement to substitute for another medic, Kristy Farrell, on January 26, 2024 in exchange for her agreement to work for him on February 16, 2024. The substitution would allow Thomas, a Marine Corps. veteran, to join members of his platoon at Arlington National Cemetery for an annual remembrance of a platoon member who was killed in action. Quoting from the complaint:

  • On January 26th, 2024, Plaintiff came in to work Kristy Farrell’s shift for her. In return, Kristy Farrell was going to work for Plaintiff on February 16th, 2024.
  • After arriving at work on January 26th, Plaintiff’s mother called Plaintiff in a panic saying someone need to go help Plaintiff’s grandfather. Specifically, Plaintiff’s grandfather had been suffering from psychiatric symptoms and seemed ready to put down his perfectly healthy four year old dog believing it was terminally ill.
  • Plaintiff called the chief on duty at that time, Chief William Boehm, and asked what his options were.
  • Plaintiff did not insist on leaving, but just asked what his options were if he were to leave for the emergency.
  • Chief William Boehm told Plaintiff. “Just leave.”
  • Plaintiff then asked “if I leave on emergency leave, will the person I’m covering for get in trouble?”
  • Plaintiff also asked if Kristy Farrell would lose a vacation day.
  • Chief William Boehm responded and said “no, nothing will happen to them.”
  • Plaintiff went on to ask if the chief needed him to stay until his relief arrived.
  • Chief William Boehm responded and said “no, just go home.”
  • The chief went on to say he wasn’t sure how he was going to put it into the system, but he would make sure no negative repercussions came upon Plaintiff or Kristy Farrell.
  • Approximately three days later, on January 29th, 2024, Plaintiff found out Kristy Farrell was speaking negatively of him on a group text thread because she had been told Plaintiff was a no show to her shift.
  • Upon information and belief, Chief William Boehm’s promise of no repercussions for the emergency leave was overruled by Chief Fred Smith.
  • Chief Fred Smith told Plaintiff that Plaintiff cannot be paid for the day he left, and that Kristy Farrell would have to lose a vacation day.
  • Plaintiff also learned Chief William Boehm was the one called Kristy Farrell and told her Plaintiff was a no-show, and forbid her from working the shift she promised to work for Plaintiff on February 16th.
  • Chief Boehm therefore directly went against what he had told Plaintiff.
  • One to two days after finding out about the misinformation given to Kristy Farrell, Plaintiff walked into a meeting that had been called with him and four Chiefs: Chief Fred Smith, Chief Brooke Haas, Chief Joaquin Toon, and Chief Tim Lankford.
  • Throughout the meeting, only Chiefs Smith and Toon spoke.
  • In the meeting, Chiefs Toon and Smith focused on three things: 1 – Plaintiff’s already scheduled time off for the month of February, 2 – Plaintiff’s alleged failure to show up Kristy Farrell’s shift on January 26th, 2024, and 3 – Plaintiff’s report regarding the incident at the jail on January 23rd, 2024.
  • The Chiefs did not deny Plaintiff was given assurance by the chief on duty no repercussions would come upon him or Kristy Farrell for leaving for emergency leave.
  • The Chiefs also did not deny Kristy Farrell was told Plaintiff was a no-show, and that she was not allowed to work Plaintiff’s February 16th shift.
  • Chief Smith simply said it was “not their policy” to give Kristy Farrell her vacation day back that had been taken from her, and that it was not “their policy” to now allow her to work Plaintiff’s shift on February 16th.
  • There is no policy on point for either of these responses given by the Chiefs.
  • The Chiefs then discussed Plaintiff’s report about the incident at the jail.
  • Chief Smith told Plaintiff “you’re trying to pick a fight with the Sheriff’s office.”
  • Despite Plaintiff’s description of how important it was he be in Arlington on February 16th, and the Chiefs not denying what happened with the swap with Kristy Farrell, they still insisted he needed to find coverage for the February 16th shift.
  • Plaintiff said he would try, but all his coworkers were unwilling to swap with him after being under the belief he had not shown up for his swapped shift with Kristy Farrell.

(3) Thomas’ Failure to Show Up for Work on February 16, 2024.

  • On February 14th, Plaintiff texted Chief Hal Bowden saying he was unable to find coverage for February 16th.
  • Chief Hal Bowden responded and said “for the record, no one blames you for having to leave the shift that day (January 26th). I strongly suggest that you find coverage if you are not coming in.”
  • Plaintiff responded that he was unable to find coverage, and that he suspected it was because everyone believed he was a no show for Kristi’s shift. He also further emphasized he would never have left on January 26th if he had not been assured there would be no repercussions for himself or Kristi.
  • On February 26th or 27th, Chief Smith called Plaintiff and said “since you didn’t honor your shift we are going to have to part ways. You can resign or I can fire you.”

The complaint alleges two counts, one for a violation of the Tennessee Public Participation Act for retaliatory termination, and the other for common law retaliatory discharge. Both allege that Thomas lawfully reported illegal behavior by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office (forcing medical care and transport of inmates), and as a result he was retaliated against.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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