A federal judge has overturned a verdict against Pasco County for allegedly retaliating against two firefighters who filed civil rights complaints.
Judge James Moody cleared the county of all charges, but he upheld the verdict against the International Association of Firefighters Local 4420 and ordered the union to pay each firefighter $83,000 in damages.
Firefighters Anthony Booth and Jerry Brown originally filed discrimination complaints in 2007 against their captain. Even though the judge dismissed their original complaints, the trial centered on whether county and union officials retaliated against Booth and Brown for engaging in protected activity.
The case hinged on a memo posted on a union bulletin board. The "legal update" memo named Booth and Brown and warned members that union dues likely would increase as a result of the "frivolous" lawsuit.
Moody agreed with the jury's finding that the memo was not protected free speech, but rather served as "an implicit call for reprisal, and thus a retaliatory act."
The jury found that Pasco County retaliated against the firefighters last August when department officials placed the men on unpaid leave and ordered them submit to psychological exams under threat of termination. Both were cleared by the department to return to duty.
Moody found the county's argument – that psychological exams were needed for safety reasons – compelling. He overturned the $23,000 judgment and said he wouldn't entertain any further motions in the case.
Attorneys for the firefighters said they plan to appeal the ruling involving the county, and they will file a motion to recover their legal fees from the union.