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Firefighter In Florida Wins $40,000 Settlement For His Claim Of Discrimination And Retaliation
By Lonce Lamonte - February 12, 2020

David Tom, a former Florida firefighter, has won a $40,000 settlement in a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination and workplace retaliation against the Indian Harbour Beach Volunteer Fire Department and the city of Indian Harbour Beach, according to a Florida news outlet, Florida Today

According to Florida Today, David Tom of Palm Bay worked from April 2015 until June 2016 as the fire department's only Asian firefighter. About two months after he joined the department and was sleeping in the fire station, a drunken firefighter woke him, and called him a profane racial epithet, as U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton wrote in his Jan. 13 order.

Tom sued the fire department and the city of Indian Harbour Beach in August 2019 in U.S. District Court in Orlando. After mediation, the parties entered into the $40,000 settlement agreement on Jan. 6th 2020, and the court case was dismissed.

David Tom had reported the incident of being called a racial epithet to fire officials, but the situation did not improve, Judge Dalton wrote, according to Florida Today. According to documents, firefighters and officers warned David Tom to keep his mouth shut and to stop complaining.

Contrary to departmental policy, Tom was not assigned an officer to oversee his skills development for several months; had multiple issues getting correct equipment; received unwarranted low evaluations to ensure he would not pass certain tests; and was denied the opportunity to report a training-accident injury, Judge Dalton wrote.

Per terms of the settlement, the two sides agreed not to comment on the lawsuit.  Both the city and the fire department admitted to no liability arising from Tom’s claims. They settled because it was not cost effective to do otherwise.

City Manager, Mark Ryan, said the city's insurance carrier covered the $40,000 settlement.  During the lawsuit, a fire department operational review revealed the department did not have liability insurance.  In December, council members unanimously voted to reimburse the fire department up to $17,000 for its pending legal expenses.

Fire Chief Todd Scaldo told council members during their Jan. 14th meeting that the fire department thought they were under the umbrella of the city. He said realizing they weren’t didn’t sit too well with him.  He expressed, “You’re got to be kidding me.”

Mark Ryan said the city's insurance carrier has historically covered workers' compensation claims for firefighter injuries.  But, of course, this discrimination claim was not workers’ compensation.

The fire department has since obtained liability insurance for the corporation covering a myriad of situations.  Fire Chief Scaldo said his department is examining its bylaws and may renegotiate its contract with the city during the next budget year. City council members voted 4-1 to reimburse the fire department $2,555 to cover its liability insurance premium for this year. 

 

lonce@adjustercom.com, Lonce Lamonte, journalist

 
 

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