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Fired decorated medic continues fight for job

He was fired for taking a drug without a prescription, but wasn't given a chance to prove his doctor recommended the drug until after he was terminated

By Gary Pinnell
Highlands Today

SEBRING, Fla. — Highlands County’s Paramedic of the Year was fired for taking a drug without a prescription. However, he wasn’t given a chance to prove that his doctor had recommended the drug until after he was terminated.

That information was contained in letters and emails between Granata, his wife Stephanie, and county officials.

At a Highlands County health fair, Granata, a 17-year EMS department veteran, was told he was dangerously overweight.

“My cholesterol and triglycerides were elevated, and I was at high risk for either having a heart attack or stroke,” Granata said. He went Dr. Arthur Williams and was prescribed the appetite suppressant Phentermine.

Granata lost 68 pounds in a year in a half, but the drug had side effects. On July 8, 2013, Dr. Williams “recommended that I stop the Phentermine and try a few day trial of my wife’s medication, Adderall, to increase my energy levels as well as other concerns.”

The Granatas had scheduled a cruise from July 11-18, and the day before he left, while working his final shift, Granata was told by EMS Director Harvey Craven to take a drug test. Since Granata knew he was taking prescribed drugs, he agreed, but afterwards told Craven that a positive result would be possible.

According to the county’s Drug-Free Policy, employees can be required to test before they are hired, as part of a routine schedule, upon reasonable suspicion, or as a follow-up to an alcohol and drug rehab program.”

Gloria Rybinski, the county’s public information coordinator, sent a copy of the policy but did not specify why Granata was required to be tested. Highlands County was asked 12 questions about Granata, but Rybinski did not reply.

“There are many details involved with this case that are protected by law and exempt from s.119.07(1) and s.24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution,” Rybinski emailed on Friday.

After he returned from the cruise, Granata found a telephone message from a Dr. Lopez, whom Granata’s attorney Jason Collier of Sarasota said was the county’s medical review officer. Rybinski did not provide Dr. Lopez’s first name and did not state whether he works for the county or a contract agency.

Granata returned Dr. Lopez’s call, explained he was taking Adderall on Dr. Williams’ advice, and offered to provide documentation. Granata was told Dr. Lopez “was reporting a positive result to my employer.”

“I also understand that Mr. Craven left telephone messages for Mr. Granata on July 18, requesting that Mr. Granata meet with him at human resources,” Granata said. “Stephanie answered the phone at one point, and my director informed her that if I was not able to produce a prescription, then I would be terminated.”

At 7:40 a.m. July 19, Granata reported to the human resources office, and was told he was being terminated. Granata explained he was advised to take Adderall.

“He had not been given sufficient time to provide the documentation from his physician explaining why the test was positive,” Collier’s letter stated. “Granata requested the county place him on an administrative leave of absence.”

“They said their minds were already made up,” Stephanie Granata said Saturday. “They said there was no other job at EMS for him to do.”

“I requested that they let me resign from my position as I was in fear of losing my state retirement that I had been investing in for the past 17 years,” Troy Granata said. “They declined my resignation, with the reason being that I would be able to collect unemployment.”

On Friday afternoon, hours after Granata was fired, “my doctor returned my call.”

A Monday morning appointment was set. “Dr. Williams ... provided the documentation from my medical records and a letter to the Medical Review Officer... and spoke with Dr. Lopez on the phone explaining these circumstances of Troy’s test results.”

Dr. Lopez reversed the positive results to negative results on July 25. Granata’s dismissal was also reversed, Rybinski said. “And the County’s offer to reinstate him on multiple occasions, with back pay that included overtime, shift differential and any other income that he would have received had he been working. Mr. Granata was scheduled to work on multiple occasions and the above mentioned employee failed to attend his scheduled shift on those occasions.”

By that time though, Granata had already retained an attorney. Collier demanded six concessions from the county:

1) Granata was to be paid lost wages and benefits.

2) His attorney fees would be paid.

“Due to the fact that we would have not occurred any attorney fees had Melissa Bruns followed Florida State Statue Ch.440.102 (3)NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES AND JOB APPLICANTS - b 4 & 8,” Granata said.

3) The county would apologize for failing to follow Florida law and its own policies when it improperly terminated Granata.

4) The county would confirm in writing that Granata’s personnel file would be purged from any reference to this drug test result and it would not be relied upon for future employment decisions.

5) The county would promise in writing not to retaliate against Granata.

6) Granata would be compensated “for harm to his reputation as a result of the county’s unlawful action in an amount to be agreed upon by the parties.”

“The county would only agree to pay Troy for his lost wages and benefits, but refused to even negotiate on any of the other conditions,” Stephanie Granata said.

“Mr. Granata also was provided the opportunity to appeal his termination,” Rybinski said. “He postponed the hearing scheduled for Oct. 11, and cancelled the hearing scheduled for Nov. 4, 2013, prompting the final termination from the County for abandonment of position.”

Because he did not return to work, Granata was fired a second time.

“Emergency Medical Services Paramedic Supervisor Troy Granata was dismissed by Highlands County administration on Nov. 7, 2013 due to abandonment of position,” Rybinski said.

Granata has appeared at four county commission meetings, requesting that they hear him tell the story of what he calls an illegal termination. He offered not to sue the county and dismissed his attorney.

Last month, however, instead of offering evidence to commission chairman Greg Harris, Granata said he would provide it to the media instead.

“I truly find it shocking that Chairman Harris has been so unwilling to expose the corruption and has now joined them,” Granata said.

Harris sounded frustrated when Granata appeared on May 6. “I am done with Troy Granata,” he said.

Granata has also requested a liberty interest hearing to clear his name, but Highlands County has not agreed. Rybinski did not state why.

“They really haven’t given a good reason why,” Stephanie Granata said.


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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