A federal judge has ordered the city of Deerfield Beach to pay firefighter Joe Langlois nearly $1 million in damages and attorneys' fees after keeping him in employment limbo for almost four years.
Accusing the city of acting in "bad faith," U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ordered Langlois be paid $633,700 in lost wages, double the amount he was seeking. Cooke also awarded Langlois $308,000 in attorneys' fees in a decision released Tuesday.
"That is the court slapping the heck out of the city," said William H. Pincus, attorney for Langlois, referring to the "bad faith" ruling.
"Joe is thrilled. He got his job back. And now he's going to be a rich man."
City commissioners will decide next week whether to appeal the ruling on damages, City Manager Larry Deetjen said.
In March, Cooke ordered city officials to allow Langlois to return to work immediately, saying they had violated his rights. The city is appealing the decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Fire officials initially refused to bring Langlois back to work but allowed his return on July 11.
"I felt vindicated when I got put back to work," Langlois said. "[The money] is the icing on the cake. It isn't that often that the little guy wins."
Langlois said his troubles began in late 2001 after he complained about favoritism within the Fire Department. Soon after, Fire Chief Gary Lother ordered Langlois to undergo a drug test, which he passed, and a psychiatric examination.
Dr. David Rooney, who was paid $10,000 by the city, said Langlois was not fit for duty and his behavior was consistent with "employee terrorism."
On Wednesday, Lother could not explain the term "employee terrorism" and said he did not know how Rooney came up with it.
Rooney could not be reached for comment.
After Rooney's evaluation, Langlois was placed on forced sick leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Seeking to return to work, he sought opinions from a psychologist and psychiatrist. Both found him fit for duty. Despite this, city officials refused to let Langlois return to work, insisting he was not fit for duty. Yet they would not fire him because they said they had no reason to do so.
The city has spent more than $200,000 defending its position in the Langlois case, city officials said.
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-572-2028.