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After suing for discrimination, firefighters’ sanity questioned

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A federal judge has ruled that two Pasco County firemen who are suing the county for discrimination must undergo mental fitness-for-duty examinations before they can return to work. The firemen, Anthony Booth and Jerry Brown, failed to convince the judge that the examinations amounted to retaliation for filing suit against the county.

Fire department officials told the two men in September they would need to be assessed before they could return to work. The county claims the tests are necessary because of statements the two made in July when they submitted affidavits as part of their discrimination case.

Booth and Brown said they no longer trusted their co-workers, who they said had threatened them. They alleged that some firefighters had intimated that they would cut off water supplying Booth’s and Brown’s fire hoses while they fought fires.

Booth is Hispanic and Brown married into a Jewish family. They both claim that Capt. Mark Bodden discriminated against them based on their ethnicity and religion. The men claimed they were passed over for promotions and were transferred against their will.

An internal investigation found that Bodden violated nine different department policies. He was transferred and ordered to take anger-management classes.

The International Association of Firefighters Local 4420 refused to back Booth and Brown in their grievances. Now the union finds itself as a co-defendant in the lawsuit.

The union had gone so far as to circulate a letter describing the lawsuit as frivolous and claiming it would cause union dues to rise. The EEOC ruled that action was itself discriminatory.

A Pasco County spokesperson stated the fitness-for-duty examinations were necessary for public safety and were not part of any “litigation strategy.”

The county has already spent $100,000 fighting the lawsuit and set aside $65,000 in the current budget for ongoing litigation. The two firemen offered to settle the suit for $20,000 each, plus $70,000 in legal fees, if they were promoted. The county refused.

Note: This case shows what can happen when anger trumps reason. The bad blood between all parties involved will likely affect workplace morale and employee retention for a long time to come.

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