FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Richard Condit, Senior Counsel
Phone: 202.408.0034 ext. 142
Contact: Karen Gray, General Counsel
Phone: 202.408.0034, ext. 122
Contact: Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Dir.
Phone: 202.408.0034, ext. 137, cell 202.236.3733
DC Fire Captain/Whistleblower Trial Begins Tomorrow
DCFD May Fire Whistleblower for Not Voluntarily Agreeing to Retaliatory Psychological Evaluation; DC Fire Trial Board to Hear Case
(Washington, D.C.) – Tomorrow, the Trial Board of the DC Fire & Emergency Medical Services (F&EMS) will hear a case involving GAP client Cpt. Vanessa Coleman, a whistleblower who has been steadily retaliated against since being singled out and made a scapegoat for the Mt. Pleasant apartment fire last year.
Specifically, the Trial Board will review whether Cpt. Coleman should be dismissed for “refusing” to take ordered psychological evaluations – a tactic that GAP lawyers (counsel for Coleman) believe to be yet another example of retaliatory actions against her for refusing to accept wrongful blame for the fire. It should be noted that Cpt. Coleman did report to the Police and Fire Clinic for the psychological evaluations, but did not sign off on their waiver form which indicated, among other things, that her cooperation was voluntary.
“Clearly, she couldn’t sign the form indicating her evaluation was “voluntary” since she was ordered to submit to the exam,” stated Karen Gray, GAP General Counsel and co-counsel for Coleman. “Our client has done nothing wrong, and in their haste to push forward a questionable and unreasonable process the department is trying to push her out the door – a completely unjustifiable action.”
The Trial Board will meet tomorrow, Tuesday, June 2nd, to hear arguments in the case, starting at 10 a.m. The hearing will be held at 441 4th St., Room #370 in Washington D.C. It is unclear at this time whether the trial board will allow any media coverage from inside the courtroom.
Captain Vanessa Coleman has been steadily retaliated against since March 2008, stemming from fallout of the Mt. Pleasant apartment fire in Washington, D.C. Despite a history beginning as a fire cadet in 1990, with subsequent promotions to Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Captain, and having annual performance reviews greater than “satisfactory,” Coleman has been singled out by department officials and made into a scapegoat for the problems stemming from the fire. At the fire, Coleman was directed away from the basement of the apartment building to the third floor. This diversion was later found to be of great importance, as fire officials now believe the fire originated in the basement.
Audio of Coleman being ordered to the third floor can be found at this Web site: http://www.dcfirefeed.com/pleasant.htm
In the months following the Mt. Pleasant fire, then-Battalion chief John Lee, who ordered Coleman and her crew to the third floor, has retired.
“The use of psychological testing to discipline or punish employees is something we’d expect from the Bush administration, not the Fenty administration,” stated Richard Condit, GAP Senior Counsel, and co-counsel to Coleman. “The mayor and the city counsel need to look into this issue.”
“Retaliation of this type is clearly prohibited by D.C. whistleblower laws,” stated GAP General Counsel Karen Gray, co-counsel to Coleman. “The fire department is sending a terrible message to those in its ranks – if you witness wrongdoing, keep it to yourself.”
The retaliation against Coleman that has ensued since the filing is a laundry list of unacceptable actions which include: citations, a suspension, failure to support her authority as a captain, stripped duties, and a transfer. In July, Coleman received a notice that she was to report for a psychological evaluation, ordered by Assistant Chief Brian Lee. Upon reporting for the exam, she requested legal counsel, but was denied. Unwilling to submit to the exam under the conditions presented to her, Coleman was directed not to go back to work and to take sick leave until she was able to take a rescheduled psychological evaluation.
Months later, in August, Coleman and GAP staff met with F&EMS officials to discuss the order. At such meeting, according to a memo written from EMS Deputy General Counsel, Thelma Chichester:
The Department has offered to hold the pending Order for Cpt. Coleman to take the Fitness for Duty Examination as well as any administrative action which resulted from her failure to comply with a direct Order in abeyance pending the conclusion of the investigation into the charges of discrimination made by Cpt. Coleman.
After reaching this agreement, Coleman was finally allowed to return to work. Shortly after this meeting, Coleman received a notice that she was being charged with insubordination for failing to take the “fitness-for-duty” exam, as ordered.