Ousted Fire Chief Denies Bias Claims

     (CN) — A former fire battalion chief ousted for referring to days at work without female employees as “No Bitch Tuesdays,” among other acts of discrimination, is suing to get his job back.
     In a complaint filed in the Broward County Circuit Court in Florida, former City of Hallandale Beach Battalion Chief Jeffrey Lyon claims his termination was unlawful due to procedural errors, conflicts of interest and a lack of evidence.
     “Because of all these egregious procedural and substantive deficiencies, the court should enter the writ of certiorari, vacate the final order of dismissal, and promptly reorder the reinstatement of Lyon, along with back-pay, seniority status, and all of the benefits associated with his prior employment with the city of Hallandale Beach,” the June 13 complaint states.
     Lyon was hired by the city in 2002 as a firefighter and paramedic, and over 14 years he was promoted to engineer, lieutenant, and finally, battalion chief. Prior to his dismissal, he had never been disciplined by the city, according to the complaint, and during his time as battalion chief his performance evaluations were always positive.
     In February 2015, a dust-up over discrimination within the city fire department resulted in the firing of Chief Daniel Sullivan over discriminatory comments he made at work.
     Lyon’s name also came up during that investigation, and a complaint and investigation into Lyon’s conduct were opened without his being immediately informed, the complaint says.
     Although there had been no formal complaints filed against Lyon previously, employees told investigators that Lyon made discriminatory comments in the past.
     A black firefighter complained that Lyon had once referred to him as a token without realizing the firefighter was in earshot. Lyon says he apologized for that one.
     Other employees recounted how Lyon allegedly dubbed shifts with no women “no bitch Tuesdays,” and several remembered Lyon saying that women don’t belong in the fire service and can’t do the job. Female employees also said Lyon asked them about their sexual orientation.
     Lyon denies all of those claims.
     Older accusations also resurfaced: In 2011 a female employee said Lyon was more critical of her because she was a woman, but Lyon countered that his treatment of her had nothing to do with gender. And in 2012, a Hispanic employee accused Lyon of saying he’d better suited to “work on lawns” but stopped short of officially complaining — until the 2015 investigation. “Such a stereotype typically and solely references individuals of Mexican origin,” Lyons suit states. “However, [the employee] is actually from El Salvador.”
     Despite what employees have reported about him, Lyon says he hasn’t gotten a fair shake. He was not given a mandatory pre-determination hearing, nor was he provided with “the required modicum of procedural due process,” his complaint states.
     The employees who complained about Lyon failed to follow proper procedure by filing their own internal complaints of discrimination, he claims. And furthermore, many of the claims were too old to be used as evidence in his firing under federal and state provisions, Lyon says. The only official complaint against him was filed by City Manager Renee Miller, who also happened to be a person in position to fire him (an inherent conflict of interest, according to the lawsuit).
     City Attorney Lynn Whitfield introduced a second conflict of interest, the complaint says, when she called for “a change in culture at the department,” apparently revealing a bias toward ousting Lyon.
     Finally, there is the matter of evidence, which Lyon claims is all really just a lot of uncorroborated and biased hearsay.
     The city’s civil service board didn’t agree. Earlier this month, Lyon appealed before the board, but its members decided that his termination was justified. That’s when Lyon decided to take the city to court.
     The City of Hallandale Beach did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
     Lyon’s attorney, Mark Berkowitz of Fort Lauderdale, said the court is likely to decide in the next 30 to 60 days if the case has merit.

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