A firefighter at the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District has sued the district, claiming she was "involuntarily retired" without pay and, after being allowed to return to work, she was placed on light duty for no legitimate reason and subjected to retaliation when she sought help from federal officials.
After the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched an investigation into Shannon Baker's case, and after a change in the district's leadership, Baker returned to work Feb. 7, 2011.
However, she was told she could not resume her duties as a firefighter until she went five years without an epilepsy seizure, according to a lawsuit filed this week on her behalf in Sacramento federal court by attorney Stewart Katz.
Baker, a 13-year veteran of the department, developed epilepsy in 2006 and missed some work due to two seizures that year, the complaint states. But, it says, the restriction imposed on her duties "is based on an erroneous reading of the National Fire Protection Association standards. Under those standards, based upon her current neurological assessment, Baker should not be given any additional (work) conditions."
The complaint also alleges gender discrimination, saying: "In addition to the disability discrimination, it is believed that there has been at least six male firefighters who have developed or been diagnosed with seizure disorders at Sac Metro Fire, and none of them have been 'involuntarily retired,'" as Baker claims she was between 2008 and 2011.
Most recently, according to the suit, Baker, 35, filed another complaint with the EEOC, alleging she has been subjected to retaliation stemming from the earlier complaint, which resulted in a finding in her favor.
District spokeswoman Michelle Eidam said Tuesday, "We are aware of the allegations against Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, but have not been served with a lawsuit at this time.
"This is a legal matter and is being handled by the district's legal counsel. Metro Fire denies all allegations. Because this is in litigation, as well as a personnel issue, we are unable to provide additional information."
Court papers prepared by Katz tell this story:
On Oct. 8, 2008, Baker was called into a meeting where Deputy Chief Geoff Miller announced to those assembled that Sac Metro was "retiring" Baker as of Nov. 1, 2008, on a non-industrial disability. She was sent home and the district quit paying her. She applied for unemployment benefits in July 2009, but Sac Metro contested her eligibility.
"Sac Metro claimed that, notwithstanding the fact that Shannon had not worked for the fire district since October 2008, and Sac Metro had refused her attempts to get back on the payroll, she was, in fact, still an 'employee' of Sac Metro," court papers say.
"Shannon was perplexed by this revelation at the hearing," according to the filing. "The administrative law judge was appalled by Sac Metro's actions and positions, and took the (unusual) step of advising Shannon to seek an attorney regarding her employment status with Sac Metro"
On Feb. 1 this year, the EEOC issued a determination that its investigation "establishes that (Sac Metro) denied (Baker) a reasonable accommodation and placed (Baker) on unpaid leave status pending involuntary retirement, in violation of the (Americans with Disabilities Act)." The EEOC notified the fire district in September that it had given Baker the green light to sue.
Within a week, court papers say, "Shannon was and has been subjected to an unceasing stream of petty write-ups and admonitions which are wholly inconsistent with her work history and the way these 'transgressions' are viewed as to every other employee. For example, she was written up for talking too much and removing a loose thread off a female co-worker's shoulder.
"Clearly, this is retaliation against Shannon for invoking her civil rights, and thus Shannon has now filed a second charge with the EEOC."
Along with the disability and gender discrimination allegations, the suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and claims Baker was denied her constitutional right to due process when she was kept off work without an administrative hearing on the matter.