Fla. firefighter-medic sues department, claims years of harassment
Terminated veteran firefighter says she was left in a burning building by her male partner and has been harassed for years
The Bradenton Herald
MANATEE, Fla. — After nearly 19 years on the job, firefighter and fire medic Tamatha Vincent was terminated July 20, 2012, by Manatee County for failure to obey a direct order to get a doctor's note to explain a medical absence.
Vincent filed a lawsuit June 7 claiming the county fired her as retaliation for claiming earlier her basic rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Family Medical Leave Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act had all been violated.
Vincent also contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding her disability discrimination claim, according to her lawsuit.
Vincent's suit, now in the early discovery stages, asks the U.S. District Court Tampa Division to restore her job as an EMT, paramedic and firefighter and award damages,
Attempts to reach Vincent for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday and a call to her Sarasota County attorney, Kevin Sanderson, was not immediately returned.
But Manatee County officials were quick to respond.
"We didn't do anything wrong in this case," Manatee County Deputy County Attorney Robert Eschenfelder said Tuesday. "Ms. Vincent had a long employment background here and had some performance issues throughout her entire career."
Eschenfelder said Vincent's attendance problems escalated to the point where she was told she had to have a doctor's note explaining any absence, Eschenfelder said.
"On this day, she was told by her captain, Kathy Peel, 'You need to come in or we need a note saying you are having an allergic reaction,'" Eschenfelder said. "She said, 'No, I am having an allergic reaction and I am not coming in.'
"Her captain told her, 'I am ordering you either to report to duty or go to a doctor.' She simply refused and that is insubordination. Employees are allowed to be given orders. Her management didn't believe she was taking absences for a valid reason."
Vincent's lawsuit indicates she plans to show a nearly 19-year pattern of personal attacks, harassment and discrimination by her managers and co-workers.
Vincent claims in the lawsuit she was abandoned on June 27, 2004, by her male firefighting partner while she was in a burning building.
The lawsuit points out Vincent left the fire medic program in 2005 when harassment for filing a complaint continued to worsen.
She said her pay was also reduced at one point.
After Vincent hired an attorney, she received more harassment by co-workers and administrative staff, according to her suit. She also claims Peel retaliated against her, leading to her termination.
Eschenfelder said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has already heard the issue of Vincent being left in a burning building.
"She already filed a previous EEOC claim on that matter and the EEOC dismissed it," Eschenfelder said.
Asked if the county would consider a settlement in the Vincent case, Eschenfelder said: "It's not going to happen. I will not recommend spending county tax dollars on a lawsuit without merit."
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