PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) - A fire department captain and union vice president claims the Prescott Fire Department forced him to retire early in retaliation for his union activities, which included helping the department's "first and only female firefighter" with a sexual harassment claim.
John Vicente sued the City Of Prescott, the Prescott Fire Department and several officials in Federal Court.
Vicente claims his longtime role as local vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters caused the chief and city leaders to threaten him with criminal charges unless he agreed to enter an early retirement program.
Vicente says defendant Fire Chief Bruce Martinez wanted him out because he had helped two members of the union file sexual harassment complaints against Battalion Chief Donald Devendorf, also a defendant.
Vicente reported the complaints in the summer of 2010. One came from Caron Nyquist, the "first and only female firefighter employee for the City of Prescott and the regional area," according to the complaint.
Nyquist claimed that Devendorf had harassed her for more then two years, and she finally decided to report him after he suggested in her presence that two male firefighters needed to have their "vaginas removed."
"The event that finally led Nyquist to complain was a confrontation regarding two employees who had used sick leave," the complaint states. "Defendant Devendorf was allegedly in a fit of rage because of the sick leave usage and made the statement to Nyquist, 'Caron, do you have a good gynecologist?' Nyquist responded by stating, 'What did you say?' Devendorf again stated, 'Do you have a good gynecologist?' Nyquist responded, 'Yes, why?' Devendorf then stated, 'I want his number so that we can schedule our pussy male employees to have their vaginas removed for calling in sick.'"
Vicente says an investigation "exonerated" Devendorf. Nyquist resigned about 2 months later.
"During the investigation, instead of inquiring about Nyquist's allegations, plaintiff Vicente was asked if '... we [the association] were targeting Devendorf,' the complaint states. (Brackets and ellipsis in complaint.)
Just after Nyquist resigned, Vicente says, the fire chief joined with Prescott's mayor and city manager to accuse him of illegally "trading shifts, swapping, or obtaining substitutes with other eligible firefighters."
But Vicents says, "trading such shifts is legal, according to the Department of Labor."
"Plaintiff Vicente was notified his behavior was illegal although it is pattern and practice in the city, as well as nationwide, for firefighters to engage in such legal activities," according to the complaint. "In fact, other city firefighters besides the plaintiff, including management personnel, engaged and do engage in such activities without being accused of engaging in illegal activities."
Vicente refused to retire early, but says that as the harassment continued he gave in.
"Since Vicente reported the sexual and workplace harassment by defendant Devendorf, he has been continually retaliated against, and treated different from, other firefighters similarly situated," the complaint states. "This disparate treatment comes in many forms. Among other things, plaintiff Vicente has been told he needs to get approval for outside employment, although other city defendant employees, including management and rank-and-file firefighters have not been held to the same standard.
"Such disparate treatment is prima facie evidence of unlawful workplace retaliation and harassment.
"Due to the defendants' numerous and repetitive illegal actions, plaintiff Vicente was pressured, under false pretenses, to retire early by entering into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan program (DROP). Such program requires members such as the plaintiff to freeze their regular monthly retirement benefit and have it deposited each month into a separate account with their employer while continuing to work for and draw a salary from their employer.
"Under the DROP program, plaintiff Vicente was required to voluntarily and irrevocably enter the program for 5 years. During this 60-month period, no member or employer contributions are made to the system and no additional years of credited service are accrued on plaintiff's behalf.
"As a result of plaintiff Vicente being pressured to retire early, he was damaged by losing significant pay and benefits in an amount to be proven at trial."
Vicente alleges violations of his rights to free speech and freedom of association. He also claims defamation, aiding and abetting, civil conspiracy and injurious falsehood. He seeks declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction, and the money he lost by being forced into the early retirement program, and punitive damages.
He is represented by Michael Pearson with Curry, Pearson & Wooten, of Phoenix.
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