Jury Trial Date Set For Case Involving Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Helicopter Pilot Suing Department for Continual Discrimination and Retaliation

Lawsuit Claims Pilot Was Unfairly Disciplined, Physically Threatened, and Verbally Harassed For Years After Filing Complaint With The Florida Commission on Human Relations

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Peter Lopez has set an October 2013 date for jury trial in the discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter pilot Steven VanDesande against the department (Case #09-30967 CA 10). The plaintiff, who is represented by employment litigation attorneys Roderick Hannah and Pelayo Duran, said in the complaint, which has been amended and supplemented three times to add ongoing acts of retaliation, that VanDesande's superiors unfairly disciplined and harassed him in retaliation for filling internal complaints objecting to discriminatory conduct, and then continued to retaliate against him after he filed his lawsuit and even after he attended a private mediation to try to settle his lawsuit.

"In this case the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the agency designated to receive and investigate complaints of discrimination and retaliation, found on three separate occasions reasonable cause that unlawful retaliation had occurred against Mr. VanDesande," said Hannah. "However, instead of correcting the problems, Mr. VanDesande's supervisors, including Chief Raymond Barreto, ramped up the retaliation in a concentrated effort to destroy Mr. VanDesande's reputation and career. That Mr. VanDesande has been able to hang in there and still do his job, even though the relentless retaliation continues to this day, is remarkable."

VanDesande was hired as a firefighter in 2001 and later promoted to pilot. According to the lawsuit, VanDesande first filed internal complaints against co-workers and supervisory personnel claiming he was experiencing ongoing and humiliating retaliation for reporting a demeaning incident in 2004. VanDesande claims he then filed a formal complaint with the Florida Commission claiming discrimination and retaliation. From that point on, the claimed acts of retaliation snowballed.

The acts of retaliation that VanDesande claims in his lawsuit occurred include being unjustifiably relieved of duty as a pilot for a year; being transferred to work in an undesirable manual labor position in a remote warehouse; being denied past due and overtime compensation; being denied available promotion opportunities; being threatened with termination if he didn't repay travel expenses he was entitled to; being subjected to numerous trumped up and unsupported internal affairs investigations; and being denied access to training and flight hours that would have advanced his career as a pilot. VanDesande's suit also claims that his supervisors were ordered by Barreto and others to unjustifiably lower his annual performance evaluations, and when the supervisors complained and objected to those orders, the supervisors were themselves disciplined. The lawsuit further claims that VanDesande was repeatedly ridiculed for filing his lawsuit by his supervisors in front of his fellow crewmembers as punishment.

On one recent occasion, according to the suit, VanDesande was subjected to repeated acts of indecent exposure in the dorm area when his supervisor "aggressively" exposed his genitals to VanDesande. When VanDesande informed the supervisor that his actions were not welcome, the supervisor threatened VanDesande with discipline and termination. When VanDesande subsequently lodged an internal complaint of retaliation with the department over the incidents, he was disciplined by being relieved of his pilot's duties for months, was falsely accused of insubordination and being mentally unfit for duty, had his county employment physical clearance reversed andwas subjected to an unnecessary psychological examination, and was transferred to a location 25 miles further from his home. The suit claims that the harassing supervisor who had engaged in the lewd and lascivious conduct was not subjected to appropriate discipline.

The lawsuit also claims that the retaliation continued even after VanDesande attended mediation in August 2011 with his attorney to try to settle the suit. According to the suit, when the mediation proved unsuccessful, VanDesande was, among other things, falsely accused of being psychologically unfit for duty; was falsely accused and investigated for workers' compensation fraud and outside employment violations; and was even unfairly disciplined by Barreto for refusing on one occasion to shake Barreto's hand. The alleged retaliation also included VanDesande and his family being harassed at their home by the department's employees to the point where VanDesande had to call the police to stop the unlawful trespassing.

"This is one of the most egregious cases of discrimination I have ever handled," said Duran. "What is most shocking and sad is that this is all happening within a government agency and to a fire rescue pilot who is willing to put his life on the line for us. Our client even received the highly coveted unit citation medal for superior lifesaving rescue operations.

In addition to seeking an injunction against the department to stop the continuing retaliation, the lawsuit seeks lost back pay, lost, benefits, damages for emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of dignity, and attorneys' fees.

Located in Miami, The Law Offices of Pelayo Duran represents clients in bankruptcy and finance, employment, criminal, traffic and personal injury matters. For more information please visit www.pelayoduran.com or call 305-266-9780.

The Law Offices of Roderick Hannah is located in Hollywood, Fla. and represents both plaintiffs and defendants in matters of employment law. The firm's litigation practice handles a range of civil and business issues. For more information please visit www.rhannahlaw.com or call 954-362-3800.