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Gay firefighter sues for discrimination over same-sex marriage

Sofia Lotto Persio November 28, 2018
Picture of the fire station in the city of Norfolk, which has beens ued by a gay firefighter over discrimination.

A retired gay firefighter is suing the city of Norfolk for discrimination. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Retired gay firefighter Scott Phillips-Gartner is suing the city of Norfolk, claiming he was forced out of his job because of his sexual orientation.

Phillips-Gartner alleges he faced discrimination after Battalion Chief Roger Burris found out he was married to a man, according to court documents quoted in the local news outlet Virginian-Pilot.

The 55-year-old man first started working for the city of Norfolk in 1991 as a 911 operator.

He then joined the firefighters the following year and eventually became an assistant fire marshal in 2013.

Throughout his time in the firefighters, he was also a member of the bomb squad.

US President Barack Obama chats with firefighters during an unannounced stop at Fire Station No. 14 September 4, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia, where the gay firefighters served until 2017.
US President Barack Obama chats with firefighters in Norfolk, where gay firefighter Scott Phillips-Gartner served. (Manden Ngan/AFP/Getty)

He noticed a change in the way he was treated at work after he married his longtime boyfriend in 2014.

According to the lawsuit, Burris began vilifying Phillips-Gartner for his sexuality throughout the following year, once asking him “Where is Mrs. Gartner?”

The gay firefighter reported his superior’s behaviour to Fire Chief Jeffrey F. Wise but, the lawsuit claims, he too began belittling Phillips-Gartner in front of the team.

According to the court documents, Phillips-Gartner then reported the harassment to the then-city auditor John Sanderlin, but still no action was taken.

“This disrupted his whole life.”

— Barry Montgomery

The situation took a turn for the worse in 2017, when Wise stripped Phillips-Gartner of his law enforcement powers.

The reason given at the time was that Phillips-Gartner had “illegally obtained” a service dog.

Wise told Phillips-Gartner in November 2017 he wanted to fire him and the gay firefighter eventually put in for retirement in December that year, albeit reluctantly.

“This disrupted his whole life,” his attorney Barry Montgomery told the Virginian-Pilot.

The city authorities would not comment on personal cases.

Gay firefighter in California said harassment left him feeling suicidal

Phillips-Gartner’s lawsuit is the latest claim of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation facing fire departments in the US this year.

A firefighter from Cal Fire department, which is facing a lawsuit from gay firefighter Dru Snider, tackles Camp Fire.
A Cal Fire firefighter monitors a burning home as the Camp Fire moves through the area on November 9, 2018 in Magalia, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

In March, 38-year-old gay firefighter Capt. Dru Snider sued the Cal Fire department, alleging that the harassment and discrimination he experienced at the Owen Valleys camp was so severe he felt suicidal.

Snider first filed a discrimination complaint in December 2015 but the department did not open an investigation into the behaviour of Owen Valley Division Chief John Paul Melendrez until the following year, when other firefighters complained about the chief’s behaviour creating “an unprofessional work environment.”

“When I asked for help, I was shunned,” Snider told The Sacramento Bee.

“When I complained (about) how I was treated in the workplace, I was shunned.”

The Cal Fire investigation into Melendrez’s behaviour concluded he was an “unprofessional” leader, but he was not removed from his role, The Sacramento Bee reported in 2017.

More: Discrimination, firefighter, lawsuit, same sex marriage, US, Virginia

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