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Firefighter sues Seminole

He says city officials discriminated against him because he wanted to date another male firefighter.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2006

SEMINOLE - A firefighter official accused of sexually harassing another male firefighter has sued the city, claiming he was fired because of his age and sexual orientation.

Bruce O. Thompson, 48, is representing himself in the case, which was filed earlier this year in federal court in Tampa.

Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds denied there was any discrimination. Thompson was fired, he said, because he did not leave the other employee alone.

"The problem is that he did not modify his behavior, which caused the city to separate his employment," Edmunds said. "Mr. Thompson didn't live up to what he said he'd do."

Seminole's labor attorney, Tom Gonzalez of Tampa, has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. A hearing has not been scheduled.

Thompson, who worked for Seminole from May 1991 through December 23, 2004, could not be reached for comment.

In his lawsuit, he claims that his problems began in 2000 when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After he told fire officials of his illness, Thompson said they began treating him differently, telling him to "go home" and accusing him of being AWOL when he forgot to set his alarm and overslept as a result of the medication he was taking.

But the real problems began, Thompson said, when he wanted to date another male firefighter.

"The city suspended the plaintiff because he is a male, and discriminated against the plaintiff because he is a male that had feelings for another male and the city opposes that," Thompson wrote in the complaint. "The city has openly allowed others to have interpersonal relationships among other employees, even in the highest ranks, but disciplined the plaintiff after his expression of interest in another employee."

Thompson said he was 47 when he was terminated. He was replaced by a younger worker, which he contends is age discrimination.

Thompson also alleged that Seminole violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired him. He alleges that he suffers from "major depression, social anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse."

Thompson said he has found it hard to get another job and wants the city to "expunge the libelous documents from all the Plaintiff's files, write a letter that actually reflects my actual work record." He also wants to be reinstated with back pay and benefits.

According to Seminole records, Thompson was counseled in October 2004 for alleged sexual harassment of another employee. Eight days after that counseling, the other firefighter told officials that he had seen Thompson drive by his home in the morning before work.

The city scheduled a predisciplinary hearing, but canceled it when Thompson signed a hearing waiver and agreed to take time off without pay, undergo a psychological evaluation to determine he was fit for duty, undergo a one-year probationary period and stay away from the other firefighter when off duty and "maintain limited contact while on duty."

It's that agreement that Edmunds said Thompson violated, but Edmunds did not have details of the alleged violation.

Since the lawsuit was filed in the spring, another former city employee has claimed that city officials sexually harassed and discriminated against her.

Evelyn Dale Pagano filed a complaint in late July with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

Pagano, 52, provided no details beyond the general allegation of harassment and discrimination. She is currently working in Alabama.

[Last modified August 23, 2006, 20:10:39]

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