TAMPA, Fla. – A second lawsuit has been filed against the City of Tampa in an attempt to protect the career of a rescue lieutenant from alleged abuse of power exerted through the city’s medical director and an arbitrator.
The International Association of Firefighters Local 754 filed suit on February 17 in the continuing saga between former Rescue Lieutenant Dwanue Johnson and Dr. Rachel Semmens, Medical Director for the city.
The lawsuit blames the case’s arbitrator, Richard P. Gortz, for ignoring a Florida statute. Gortz is accused of improperly succumbing to the wishes of Dr. Semmens.
Dr. Semmens stated that in both the first and second arbitrations, that she would not permit Johnson to serve as an emergency medical technician or paramedic. Dr. Semmens previously had filed a complaint against Johnson with the state licensing board, but it was rejected for lack of evidence regarding her allegations against him.
The case started in 2017 when Johnson was accused of getting into an argument with a mother who wished to be transported with her daughter inside an ambulance. Johnson was not required to accommodate the mother’s wishes, but the fact that an argument occurred displeased the medical director. Within days, another incident occurred, where Johnson deceived a Tampa city police officer over an ambulance call alleged to involve a woman’s boyfriend’s suicide attempt by over-medicating.
Neither Johnson nor the police officer believed the subject was over-medicated, but the man agreed to go to the hospital at the police officer’s request. Johnson decided to make it appear as if the man was transported to the hospital, when in fact, he was returned to his motel. Paperwork associated with the incident was also considered improper, even by the arbitrator and circuit court judge. But both agreed that Johnson’s actions did not rise to the level of insubordination. They also agreed Johnson showed poor judgment in the second incident but indicated there was no proof that he ignored evidence or falsified patient care records.
The firefighter’s union argues that the medical director can make her case as to why she believes Johnson should not perform as an EMT or paramedic, but her case and opinion alone cannot be the city’s cause of termination or demotion. Instead, her position is to be reviewed and considered as the City of Tampa determines a firefighter’s employment status with respect for collective bargaining agreements with the firefighter’s union and Florida Statutes.
Firehouse magazine, a national publication for firefighters, states that prior to the first arbitration, the City of Tampa terminated Johnson for the incidents that occurred.
After Gortz and later, a circuit judge agreed that Johnson should be reinstated to his position as rescue lieutenant, the city re-hired him but demoted him to “firefighter” shortly thereafter, allegedly without just cause. The union’s lawsuit states the city’s demotion of Johnson was improperly based on Dr. Semmen’s wishes.
Robert McKee, the firefighter union’s attorney, stated at the time that, “the city’s still playing games here with the man’s career and it’s just unconscionable.”
Johnson was a city employee for 15 years prior to his career woes. According to Firehouse, Johnson stated, “This is a case of harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation…it’s just that simple. You have certain individuals in administration…if they don’t like you, they go after you.”
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