Former firefighter sues Texas city over termination
Lawyers for the former Huntsville firefighter say he was labeled a "pill popper" after experiencing surgery complications
The Huntsville Item, Texas
HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A former Huntsville firefighter has filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging he was being subjected to discrimination and harassment due to a disability.
Jason January, a full-time employee with the Huntsville Fire Department from 2000 until his removal in April 2019, claims his termination was carried out in violation of state laws — including the ADA and Rehabilitation Act — in a lawsuit filed earlier this year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
In the lawsuit, January demands to be reinstated or be compensated for back pay and the loss of his benefits.
According to the lawsuit, January had gallbladder issues that necessitated surgery, which in turn led to multiple complications. The Mayo Clinic says that gallbladder issues are an impairment that substantially limits major life activities, including eating, sleeping and working.
"Even though Mr. January was taking prescription medication for a known disability, HFD considered Mr. January to be a pill popper and harassed him about his medications," the suit alleges.
Huntsville city manager Aron Kulhavy confirmed in a January 2019 email of January's claims of discrimination. That prompted the city to retain Jason Caseel of the Houston office of Lewis Brisbois as outside counsel to investigate the complaint.
"Despite conducting an internal investigation of the complaints, HFD did nothing in response to these complaints and would not discuss the matter with Mr. January," the suit alleges.
After informing the city of his intent to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the city then took steps to "rid itself of Mr. January." The lawsuit then says that January visited city hall on March 28, 2019 with low blood sugar, causing his speech to become slurred.
"Even though Mr. January was off duty, HFD seized this opportunity to declare that he was intoxicated on medications," the suit says. "HFD tried to compel Mr. January to take a drug test at a local pharmacy, which was contrary to HFD policy. Mr. January declined."
The suit says that January arranged for a professional drug test, which confirmed he was not intoxicated at the time of the incident. He was terminated two weeks later.
"Even though outside counsel had conducted interviews over three months earlier, the city manager claimed that its outside counsel had magically completed the investigation on the same day that the fire chief was initiating a complaint against Mr January. The city manager also claimed that Mr. January had admitted that there was no legal or fractal basis for his claims, which is absurd."
The Huntsville City Council has met behind closed doors on multiple occasions in regards to the ethics complaint. However, no public action has been taken.
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