Pensacola Settled Ex-Fire Chiefs’ Discrimination Lawsuits For $575,000

PENSACOLA, FL — In the closing weeks of Mayor Ashton Hayward’s term, the city of Pensacola quietly settled discrimination and retaliation lawsuits filed by the city’s former fire chiefs for $575,000.

Former Interim Fire Chief Matthew Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Glover filed lawsuits in 2016 alleging their firings earlier that year were in retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The settlement was finalized and the case was dismissed Nov. 5 — the day before the city elected Grover Robinson as its new mayor.

Rocco Calamusa with the Birmingham, Alabama, law firm of Wiggins Childs Pantazis Fisher and Golfarb represented Schmitt and Glover. He said the settlement vindicated his clients’ allegations against the city.

“Chief Schmitt and Chief Glover are glad that the matter has finally been resolved,” Calamusa told the News Journal. “They both stand by their allegations that they were retaliated against. Their leave, the investigation and terminations were in retaliation for complaining about discrimination and firing EOC charges against the city and its management.”

The city’s insurance covered the $575,000 settlement, minus the city’s $50,000 deductible. The settlement documents obtained by the News Journal from the city show Glover received $302,500, and Schmitt received $272,500 out of the settlement

Although the court dismissed the suit Nov. 5, the settlement agreement was reached Oct. 16, according to Pensacola spokesman Vernon Stewart.

“In accordance with our city policy, we do not comment or publicize personnel matters to include settlements,” Stewart said.

The Pensacola City Council wasn’t told about the settlement until Jan. 16, when Robinson sent an email notifying them of the settlement.

Robinson’s email about the settlement said he would be meeting with Glover, along with City Administrator Chris Holley and Fire Chief Ginny Cranor, to discuss ways to make the Pensacola Fire Department more inclusive.

When asked why Hayward didn’t notify the City Council about the settlement, Stewart said that would be a question for Hayward, but that notifying the council about legal settlements was not something that was normally done during the previous mayor’s term.

Stewart said the city has no policy on notifying City Council about legal settlements.

The News Journal has reached out to Hayward for comment.

Schmitt and Glover filed complaints with the EEOC in December 2015 alleging the city denied them pay raises because of racial discrimination. A month later, the city hired Russel Van Sickle, a partner at Beggs and Lane, to investigate Schmitt’s and Glover’s management of the Pensacola Fire Department, and both men were put on administrative leave.

In May 2016, Hayward fired both men, citing a “loss of confidence” in their leadership after Van Sickle’s 132-page report alleged they violated city policy. But Schmitt and Glover said the investigation was a “smear” campaign designed to discredit them, and their firing was retaliation for filing a complaint against the city.

In March 2018, the city filed to have the lawsuit dismissed, saying the reason the investigation was launched was not relevant and the firings were justified because the investigation “found wrongdoing.”

Calamusa hit back against the city’s claim, arguing in an April 2018 court filing that the investigation was launched because the city wanted to retaliate against Schmitt and Glover.

As evidence for the argument, Calamusa also filed portions of transcripts of depositions with city officials, including Hayward, held in January 2018.

In the deposition, Hayward repeatedly answers questions about the circumstances surrounding the firing of Schmitt and Glover with the same sentence, “I don’t recall.”

In the weeks after the filing, both parties began negotiating, and they reached a settlement deal in November.

Calamusa said Wednesday that both Schmitt and Glover are ready to move on with their lives.

“They are both glad they stood up for what they believed was right, and with this resolution, their resignation and the payments, they have been vindicated and are ready to move on with their lives,” Calamusa said.

Read the portions Hayward’s January 2018 deposition filed in federal court below. 

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