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Retaliation of the Week

PHOENIX (CN) - A Fire Department official who reprimanded workers for graffiti of "a penis and testicles" at a fire station claims he suffered retaliation via interoffice mail: "two small pieces of pasta," one shaped like a penis and one like a vagina, with his name on the vagina.

Frank Cheatham sued Phoenix in Federal Court. He seeks a jury trial.

Cheatham, a deputy chief shift commander with 24 years on the job, claims he "admonished" supervisors for "specifically, two depictions of a penis and testicles-openly displayed in the workplace at Fire Station 1." This was in November 2009.

Cheatham says the graffiti created a sexually hostile workplace and he "admonished the supervisors at Fire Station 1 that such drawings were inappropriate and would not be tolerated in the future."

Then came the retaliation, Cheatham says in the complaint.

"Soon thereafter, Chief Cheatham received a large brown envelope in interoffice mail containing two small pieces of pasta, one of which resembled a penis and the other of which resembled a vagina.

"The piece of pasta resembling a vagina had Chief Cheatham's first name ('Frank') written on it.

"Soon thereafter, in February of 2010, Chief Cheatham began hearing rumors in the Department that he would be removed from his position as Deputy Chief Shift Commander of South Shift Command.

"In March of 2010, Chief Cheatham was officially informed by telephone by his supervisors at the Phoenix Fire Department that the Department had in fact decided to remove him from his position of Deputy Chief Shift Commander of South Shift Command and involuntarily transfer him to the Department's 'Safety Division.'

"Chief Cheatham's job duties at the Fire Department's 'Safety Division' are undefined, do not involve the supervision of firefighters, do not require him to exercise his management skills, and leave him with little to do all day.

"Moreover, in his position at the Fire Department's Safety Division, Chief Cheatham has no direct reports, no staff, and no subordinates.

"In stark contrast, while serving as Deputy Chief Shift Commander of South Shift Command, Chief Cheatham had three full-time staff members, directly supervised four battalion chiefs, and indirectly supervised approximately 440 firefighters.

"In addition, Chief Cheatham has less favorable working hours in his new position in the Safety Division than the hours that he enjoyed in his position as Deputy Fire Chief Shift Commander of South Shift Command.

"Chief Cheatham's position in the Fire Department's Safety Division has far less prestige than his former position of Deputy Chief Shift Commander of South Shift Command.

"The Fire Department's involuntary transfer of Chief Cheatham from Deputy Chief Shift Commander of South Shift Command to the Department's Safety Division constitutes a substantive, de facto demotion."

Cheatham says he got a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.

He seeks declaratory judgment, a protective injunction and compensatory and punitive damages for harassment and retaliation.

He is represented by Stephen Montoya with Montoya, Jimenez & Pastor.

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