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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

Suits accuse former Clearwater fire chief of age discrimination

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CLEARWATER -

Former Clearwater Fire Chief Jamie Geer is serving a life prison sentence for having sex with a child, but at least two firefighters are still dealing with the lingering effects of what’s been described as Geer’s unfair management practices.

Two aspiring lieutenants filed a federal age-discrimination lawsuit late last year, claiming Geer routinely selected younger candidates instead of them.

John Klinefelter, the head of the firefighters’ union, declined to comment on the suit but said that, during Geer’s reign, the chief seemed to favor younger men for promotions over older ones.

“He was all over the place the way he promoted,” Klinefelter.

In fact, during contract negotiations, the union made sure the fire chief wouldn’t have the power Geer did to skip over the top-scoring candidates for people he personally favored, Klinefelter said.

Now, the chief must pick someone from among candidates who score in the Top 5. Candidates net a score based in part on a writing test and in part on an interview.

The two firefighters who filed suit are Dwayne C. Vaughan, who eventually left the fire department, and Michael Faulkner, who was eventually promoted to lieutenant but is still pursing legal actions.

Vaughan had to drop out of the lawsuit this year after attorneys in the case discovered he’d agreed not to sue the city as part of a voluntary retirement agreement he signed three years ago.

Vaughan received a lump sum payment of $15,000 as part of that 2010 agreement.

In the federal lawsuit, Vaughan, who was hired in 1983 at the age of 24, said he first applied to be a lieutenant in 2004, at the age of 45. During the promotion process, Vaughan claims, Geer told him, “This is a young man’s game.”

On 11 subsequent occasions, Vaughan was passed over for younger candidates. In all but one of the 12 occasions, the firefighters chosen were younger than 40. He filed an age-discrimination complaint in May 2006, was fired the following month, appealed and was reinstated in 2008, with back pay and benefits.

As part of his reinstatement, it was agreed Vaughn would be put on the list of firefighters eligible to be promoted to lieutenant. But that didn’t happen immediately, and he missed two chances to be considered. He was also overlooked at least four additional times.

In March 2008, Vaughan filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which eventually ruled “there was reasonable cause to believe” Vaughan had been discriminated against.

In a separate matter, Vaughan alleges in his suit, the city wouldn’t work with him as he tried to get his EMS certification back, and, as a result, he was demoted in 2009, with a reduction in pay.

“As a result of the ongoing age discrimination and retaliation, Plaintiff was forced to resign his position,” his lawsuit states.

When Vaughan signed the agreement promising not to sue the city, the EEOC hadn’t yet issued a ruling backing him, according to his attorney, Angela Outten, who also represents Faulkner.

“I don’t think he realized they were actually investigating and might rule in his favor,” Outten said. “I don’t think he thought he would be able to pursue an age discrimination claim.”

Vaughan is currently working as a nurse at an area hospital, she said.

The other plaintiff, Faulkner, was first hired in 1999 and applied to be a lieutenant for the first time in 2004, at the age of 52. He was passed over 24 times, mostly in lieu of candidates younger than 40. In 2005, he filed an age discrimination complaint with the city. He was finally promoted in 2008.

Faulkner is continuing with his legal action because he wasn’t earning the salary he should have been during the years he was passed over, and that affects his pension, Outten said.


Geer, the fire chief, was fired in 2010 after he was accused of having sex with a child.


sthompson@tampatrib.com

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