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Firefighter ousted over marijuana gets $200K settlement

Kirk Lewis claimed he did not know he was under investigation after a fire captain smelled marijuana coming from his room, and he was not advised of his rights


By Gary Klien
The Marin Independent Journal

NOVATO, Calif. — The Novato fire district reached a settlement of nearly $200,000 with a firefighter it terminated for failing a drug test and other alleged violations.

Kirk Lewis received $150,000 from the district’s insurer under the settlement. The district itself paid another $49,000 to Lewis’ lawyers.

The district admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to regard Lewis’ exit as a resignation rather than a termination.

Both fire Chief Mark Heine and Gregg Adam, a lawyer for Lewis, declined to comment on the resolution. The settlement includes a prohibition on discussing it with the media.

The lawsuit stemmed from an incident on Aug. 12, 2015, at the fire station on Atherton Avenue. Lewis was in his dorm room.

A fire captain smelled marijuana outside the dorm room window and asked Lewis if he was smoking it. Eventually Lewis was ordered into the captain’s office for questioning.

Lewis, who is in his 30s, denied using marijuana that day but acknowledged using it two days earlier on a camping trip. He was ordered to take a drug test, which detected marijuana.

Several months later, after further personnel procedures, the fire department terminated Lewis. It cited the marijuana use, his alleged “deceptive” and “misleading” behavior during the investigation, and his apparent use of sick leave for vacation purposes, according to court documents.

In February 2016, Lewis sued for reinstatement, alleging that the management’s actions violated Lewis’ labor rights under the Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights. He claimed the managers never formally told him he was under investigation, did not advise him of his right to have a union representative present, and did not advise him of his rights against self-incrimination.

The lawsuit landed before Judge Roy Chernus in Marin Superior Court. After extended litigation and some judicial rulings, the lawyers agreed to go into mediation.

The case was dismissed in November after the litigants settled.

As part of the settlement, Lewis agreed never to seek employment with the district again, visit fire district sites or socialize with district employees.

The Novato fire district has about 80 employees and an annual budget of about $30 million.

Copyright 2017 The Marin Independent Journal

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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