Pine-Strawberry Fire District Charged With Civil Rights Violations

Advertisement

Mark Boys, a former Pine-Strawberry firefighter, filed a civil rights lawsuit in the District Court of Arizona May 4 against the Pine-Strawberry Fire District.

The litigation charges the agency with two counts of federal civil rights violations.

Paramedic and training coordinator Boys, a 12-year veteran of the department, said the district violated his civil rights -- protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- when Fire Chief Bill Dekker retaliated against him for counseling a co-worker on alleged sexual harassment by the chief, and subsequently terminated Boys without due process.

"What we have here is a situation where the fire chief and the board have completely ignored all of their own regulations and policies," said Stan Lubin, Boys' attorney. "They've ignored federal and state law. Dekker has taken it upon himself to interpret the law in an arbitrary and capricious way, and in the process of doing that, has completely violated the rights of Mark Boys."

On Aug. 16, 2005, a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determination provided the impetus for Boys and Lubin to move forward on a federal, civil claim against PSFD.

Boys' Title VII complaint described his Jan. 27, 2005 termination from the department.

The case began in the fall of 2004 when PSFD administrative assistant Dawn Falls approached Boys about a concern.

"Dawn Falls advised Boys that she had been sexually harassed and touched by District Fire Chief William Dekker," according to the complaint. "She also related to (Boys) that she had observed Chief Dekker treat others in a similar manner. She indicated she was anxious to take action to stop that conduct, but was afraid of retaliation by the fire chief."

Boys advised Falls, who declined to comment, to seek umbrage under the EEOC and to hire an attorney.

At the same time, an anonymous letter, dated Nov. 10, 2004, showed up on the district's bulletin board, charging Dekker with other instances of inappropriate behavior.

According to legal documents, Dekker called a Nov. 19, 2004 meeting with the PSFD board to address a pending investigation regarding the source of the letter. "(Dekker) originally thought that Mr. Boys had written it, but now did not believe that was the case."

The fire department sent Boys a Dec. 6, 2004 letter of intent to terminate. On Jan. 27, 2005, Dekker terminated Boys, and on April 27, 2005, Boys appealed his case to a three-member panel of peers comprised of fire captains Ray Groves, Lynn Larned and engineer Don Voakes.

The appeal board reviewed four charges against Boys: false allegations of sexual harassment, failure to follow district grievance policy, creating and fostering a hostile work environment, and circumventing the chain of command.

Boys said he decided against the district's grievance procedure because of a conflict of interest between his superior, Captain Bob Lashua, and Dekker.

Lashua -- per PSFD's grievance policy -- was required to bring the charges to Dekker.

Lashua declined to comment. Dekker is out of the country until the end of May.

The EEOC determination, confirmed by Lubin, said Title VII "protected activity" provisions superceded district grievance policy procedures and protected Boys from retaliation.

"The evidence indicates that (PSFD) retaliated against (Boys) for engaging in protected activity by removing him from his job duties and terminating him from his employment," wrote EEOC District Director Chester V. Bailey.

Boys, in a written statement, noted other irregularities in the appeals process.

The makeup of the panel, he wrote, failed to ascribe to the department's policy, which should have included two members appointed by the chief -- a shift commander and an officer -- and a department member selected by the appellant.

Boys' lawsuit said that Voakes' position as an engineer didn't comply with the district's policy, and Voakes, one of the panel members selected by Dekker, exhibited partiality.

"The member appointed by Chief Dekker indicated to other board members that he was biased before the hearing even began," reports Lubin's lawsuit.

Appeal Board Chairman Groves acknowledged the conflict of interest in an April 29, 2005 letter to Boys.

"I am so sorry that a panel member made an inappropriate statement," he wrote. "We have asked him to step down from the panel."

Groves, Larned and Voakes declined to comment.

The alleged retaliation, wrote Bailey, said Boys' involvement in Falls' sexual harassment claims -- none of which were filed formally -- was unwarranted.

"The evidence does not support (PSFD's) contentions that (Boys) made false allegations of sexual harassment against (Dekker) or that he coerced (Falls) into filing a sexual harassment complaint," wrote Bailey.

Boys, on May 16, 2005, filed the next level of appeal -- called for in the district's grievance procedures -- with Fire Chief Dekker, who upheld the findings of the appeals board in a May 26, 2005 letter.

Boys submitted a final appeal allowed in special circumstance to the fire board June 3, 2005. The board had 14 days to respond, and, according to the lawsuit, has not answered Boys' appeal.

"The district has not followed through with their own policies," said PSFD business manager Jim Kane. "They have gone forward with the chief and I don't think that's proper."

Fire district board member Forest McCoy and former board chairman Ross Gooder, both on the board at the time of Boys' termination, declined to comment. Board member Rose Harper, current Chairman Dan McKinney and the board's attorney, Mike Salcido, did not respond to phone calls.

The Pine-Strawberry Fire District has 60 days to answer Boys' Title VII complaint.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.