Former probationary firefighter claims hostile work environment - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Former probationary firefighter in Huntington claims hostile work environment

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A probationary firefighter in Huntington who was terminated for alleged insubordination, conduct unbecoming a firefighter and substandard evaluations is suing the city, claiming a hostile workplace, sexual harassment, wrongful termination and several other charges.

Probationary firefighter Seth Summers filed the suit April 7 in U.S. District Court in Huntington, alleging violations of state and federal wage and hour laws; human rights act reprisals; whistle blower retaliation and workers compensation retaliation; violation of public policy; intentionally inflicted emotional distress; negligent retention of individuals who subjected him to harassment; breach of contract and wrongful termination.

Summers wants his job back plus damages and assurances the alleged hostility will not be repeated.

Hired in August 2012, Summers alleges his coworkers subjected him to extreme harassment, including setting off firecrackers near his head, swiping his equipment and personal effects, dousing his clothing and bed sheets in water and making sexual references.

He claims he was compelled to perform training, testing and other tasks beyond that required of other probationary employees, and that he was required to stay after his shift ended to complete housekeeping tasks assigned him.

He also claims he was denied his one-year raise, required to agree in writing to an extension of his probation and that he was warned not to report or complain about the alleged harassment. He said he requested a transfer but was denied, and afterward when he reported to his regular shift assignment he discovered his locker had been vandalized, items removed and sexual slurs scrawled on it.

Summers claims the harassment intensified after he notified his superiors and they, in turn, advised his coworkers he'd filed a complaint.

According to papers filed in conjunction with the lawsuit, Fire Chief Carl Eastham notified Summers in November he'd been put on administrative leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing, citing several instances when Summers allegedly refused to do training exercise because he was doing "personal matters" or his legs were too tired to train as directed. Eastham also cited his refusal to complete housekeeping tasks he'd been assigned while he was on light duty.

"Your conduct as a probationary firefighter shows an inability to adjust to a paramilitary organization where orders are given and acted upon," Eastham said in the letter, a copy of which Summers' attorneys filed as a supporting affidavit. "While on limited duties you were assigned housekeeping duties that were rarely completed. After being investigated for failing to pass the Emergency Medical Technician certification written test and receiving sub-standard reviews, you have failed to correct the sub-standard reviews.

"Through these and other actions you have lost the respect and trust of those assigned to work and train with you that is necessary to function as a firefighter."

Summers is represented by Debra C. Price of Taylor & Price PLLC, of Winfield and Paul R. Sheridan of Charleston.