Saturday, June 2, 2007

County settles wrongful termination suit for $24k

Leah Justice
May 24, 2007

Polk County’s $24,000 settlement with a former employee followed almost three years of litigation on a wrongful termination case.
County commissioners agreed to settle the case following a closed session meeting on May 7.
Robert Dempsey, former paramedic who had been employed with the county since the early 1990s, sued the county for wrongful termination after he was fired on Sept. 20, 2004.
As grounds for his firing, the county cited falsification of records for personal gain, violation of work rules with regard to filing incident reports and concern that Dempsey was unable to properly care for his patients.
Dempsey said he did not falsify records. His lawsuit included affidavits from several persons, including patients he had cared for, claiming he was competent and did an excellent job for the county. He said since 2001, Polk County Emergency Services Director Sandra Halford increasingly exhibited personal animosity against him because he often questioned the logic of her decisions that he believed were either an endangerment to patients’ lives or a waste of taxpayer money.
Halford claimed that until the lawsuit, she had a good working relationship with Dempsey and she did not bear any malice in her decision.
She said she was first confronted with evidence that Dempsey was submitting false claims for overtime in early Aug., 2004. Upon further examination, other instances of overtime abuse came to light, said one affidavit. Halford also mentioned comments made by Dempsey that caused her to question his ability to care for patients.
On Sept. 9, 2004, the Medical Review Committee ruled that Dempsey was an endangerment to his patients.
On Aug. 12, 2004, Halford sent a notice of proposed dismissal and non-disciplinary suspension with pay to Dempsey requesting Dempsey to attend a pre-dismissal conference on Aug. 16, 2004 in the county manager’s office. The specific basis for the proposed dismissal noted “falsification of times on patient care report” for Aug. 1, 2004.
Stating that the notice wasn’t enough time, Dempsey attended another scheduled pre-dismissal conference on Sept. 15, 2004.
He received a letter from then county manager Karim Shihata notifying him of his termination. Shihata wrote that the reason was for detrimental personal conduct based upon falsifying records, flagrant violation of work rules and protection of the safety of persons.
“From review of call records and patient care records for all paramedics in the department by medical staff at the hospital…, there is substantial concern about your ability to properly care for patients in your care, and the consensus by such group is that you should not continue in this position,” Shihata’s letter said.
Dempsey appealed the decision after receiving legal counsel from attorney Baiba Bourbeau and Shihata replied that the termination stood and that no further appeals of the decision could be made within the Polk County personnel policy.
Dempsey filed suit against the county for wrongful termination and for not being able to collect unemployment. He later filed a slander lawsuit against Halford and Dr. Alison VanFrank, EMS medical director at St. Luke’s Hospital.
The county’s settlement with Dempsey closes the wrongful termination and unemployment case, but the slander case against Halford and Dr. VanFrank is still ongoing.

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