Retired gay firefighter Scott Phillips-Gartner is suing the city of Norfolk, claiming he was forced out of his job because of his sexual orientation.
Phillips-Gartner alleges he faced discrimination after Battalion Chief Roger Burris found out he was married to a man, according to court documents quoted in the local news outlet Virginian-Pilot.
The 55-year-old man first started working for the city of Norfolk in 1991 as a 911 operator.
He then joined the firefighters the following year and eventually became an assistant fire marshal in 2013.
Throughout his time in the firefighters, he was also a member of the bomb squad.
He noticed a change in the way he was treated at work after he married his longtime boyfriend in 2014.
According to the lawsuit, Burris began vilifying Phillips-Gartner for his sexuality throughout the following year, once asking him “Where is Mrs. Gartner?”
The gay firefighter reported his superior’s behaviour to Fire Chief Jeffrey F. Wise but, the lawsuit claims, he too began belittling Phillips-Gartner in front of the team.
According to the court documents, Phillips-Gartner then reported the harassment to the then-city auditor John Sanderlin, but still no action was taken.
“This disrupted his whole life.”
— Barry Montgomery
The situation took a turn for the worse in 2017, when Wise stripped Phillips-Gartner of his law enforcement powers.
The reason given at the time was that Phillips-Gartner had “illegally obtained” a service dog.
Wise told Phillips-Gartner in November 2017 he wanted to fire him and the gay firefighter eventually put in for retirement in December that year, albeit reluctantly.
“This disrupted his whole life,” his attorney Barry Montgomery told the Virginian-Pilot.
The city authorities would not comment on personal cases.
Gay firefighter in California said harassment left him feeling suicidal
Phillips-Gartner’s lawsuit is the latest claim of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation facing fire departments in the US this year.
In March, 38-year-old gay firefighter Capt. Dru Snider sued the Cal Fire department, alleging that the harassment and discrimination he experienced at the Owen Valleys camp was so severe he felt suicidal.
Snider first filed a discrimination complaint in December 2015 but the department did not open an investigation into the behaviour of Owen Valley Division Chief John Paul Melendrez until the following year, when other firefighters complained about the chief’s behaviour creating “an unprofessional work environment.”
“When I asked for help, I was shunned,” Snider told The Sacramento Bee.
“When I complained (about) how I was treated in the workplace, I was shunned.”
The Cal Fire investigation into Melendrez’s behaviour concluded he was an “unprofessional” leader, but he was not removed from his role, The Sacramento Bee reported in 2017.