Georgia Firefighters Win Discrimination Lawsuit

A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia awarded $250,000 each to two firefighters and the estate of a third who died after making an initial complaint.

Yates, Enfinger and Bellflower had claimed the work environment at Fire and Rescue had deteriorated into supervisors and former County Administrator Jim Bramblett scrutinizing firefighters' Internet browsing and even their conversations with each other. On Aug. 5, 2005, the plaintiffs and King were called into a meeting with Bramblett and EMS Director Bill Hogan--who had taken on a dual role as interim fire chief following former Fire Chief Billy Griffin's resignation.

At the meeting, Bramblett and Hogan suspended the plaintiffs and King from work without pay, placed disciplinary records in their employment, ordered them to attend diversity training on their own time and expense and allegedly threatened them with future retaliation. The four firefighters appealed their punishment and according to them, were told by Bramblett he had disciplined them for eavesdropping on an executive session of the Board of Commissioners in which personnel issues were discussed.

In November and December 2005, the plaintiffs then filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC.

On June 15, 2006, the EEOC released statements it had found that the firefighters' evidence supported a violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. An EEOC conciliation meeting was held in Atlanta, Ga., on Aug. 1, 2006, but its attempts to settle the dispute were unsuccessful.

The players

Bellflower, a veteran firefighter, died of a heart attack in July 2006 at the age of 58.

Former Fire and Rescue Chief Griffin, who resigned from his post in May 2006 amidst controversy over the work environment he oversaw, continued working for the county after Bramblett put him in the position of facilities and maintenance director, however Griffin later retired due to health concerns.

County commissioners essentially forced out Bramblett, who resigned in July 2006, due to job performance concerns.

Hogan, who has been employed by Decatur County since April 2005 as EMS director, served as interim fire chief between June 2005 until 2006, when he handed over responsibility of Fire and Rescue to fully focus on his EMS duties.

The four firefighters' lawsuit had named Hogan, who had handled personnel issues at Fire and Rescue at Bramblett's request, as a defendant along with Bramblett. However, it is unclear if Tuesday's decision pertains to Hogan, Bramblett or any other county officials.

County commissioners chose Charlie McCann, who had been assistant fire chief under Griffin, to be fire chief on a permanent basis in June 2008. He had served as interim chief since 2006, along with his duties as local Emergency Management Agency director. The four firefighters had referred to McCann in a small part of their 112-page lawsuit.

Republished with permission of The Post-Searchlight.