KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - A corrections officer and former Marine was repeatedly discriminated against by his supervisors and co-workers who saw his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as something to ridicule, the Iraq War veteran claims in a lawsuit.
Christopher Fustos served in the Marine Corps in Iraq from February 2004 through November 2007, and was honorably discharged after being wounded in combat. According to the complaint he filed in the Knoxville Federal Court, the wounding was caused by an exploding hand grenade, and the explosion left him with numerous scars on his back.
Fustos was hired by Knox County, Tenn. on March 26, 2012, to work as a corrections officer. He says the discrimination he experienced began just over two years later, when, while working on July 4, a fellow officer yelled, "So Fustos, those scars on your back, are they direction arrows for your boyfriend so he knows where to stick it?"
"During this incident, Mr. Fustos' superiors (Lieutenants) were among the crowd laughing and cheering," the complaint says. "Multiple incidents of discrimination and harassment occurred thereafter."
Fustos goes on to claim that during another incident his "co-workers took facility-provided gloves, and popped them loudly behind Mr. Fustos' ears, stating, 'Hey, I'm helping you with your PTSD! Its therapy for you!!'"
In addition he says, on two separate occasions stated in front of his fellow officers, "Hey Fustos, when your PTSD kicks in and you shoot up the place, remember who was nice to you and who gives you time off!"
Fustos says after he reported these incidents, he was subjected to retaliation in a number of ways, including losing his right to carry his cellphone in restricted areas, an privilege he'd been given to keep in touch with his diabetic daughter.
Still, he says, the harassment continued unabated.
According to the complaint, Fustos wrote a letter to the Office of Professional Standards, outlining the ongoing discrimination he was being subjected to, but he delayed sending it because he feared the retaliation against him would only get worse.
"In December of 2014, Mr. Fustos took three (3) weeks of FMLA-protected leave, during which time he sought treatment from a psychiatrist at the VA Medical Center in Knoxville to cope with the severe emotional distress he was suffering at work as a result of the harassment, discrimination, and retaliation to which he was subjected," the complaint says.
Upon his return, Fustos was disciplined for an incident involving an inmate, but in typical fashion, he says, he was disciplined more harshly than the other corrections officer involved.
"Although Mr. Fustos remains employed by the County, he has been transferred to Work Release, where he has virtually no contact with coworkers. Upon information and belief, this transfer was retaliatory in nature," the complaint says.
Fustos seeks $250,000 n compensatory damages, $500,000 for liquidated damages, $100,000 in exemplary damages, and injunctive relief on claims of retaliation, disability discrimination, and military discrimination.
He is represented by James Friauf of Knoxville.
Knox Co. Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong, who represents the defendant, declined to comment as the county has yet to be served with the lawsuit.
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