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Fire department hit with second EEOC complaint

A second Columbus firefighter has filed an U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the city, alleging gender discrimination.

Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services Capt. Mary Simonton said she filed the complaint late last week.

Simonton, a 30-year employee with the department, was one of five people to apply for a deputy chief's position late last year that went to former Fire Marshal Greg Lang.

One of Simonton's major concerns was that "the interview process was unprofessional, inappropriate and insensitive.'' Simonton, 51, was interviewed by Chief Jeff Meyer and Assistant Chief Jerry Fountain after a leadership class at the department's training center. The interview was conducted outside while Fountain and Meyer smoked cigarettes and the smoke blew in her face, Simonton wrote in her complaint.

The city's Human Resources Department investigated Simonton's complaint and concluded on Jan. 16 there was no merit to her allegations, but did express concerns about the manner in which the selection process was conducted.

"People think I am filing this because I didn't get the job," Simonton said Monday. "I am filing this because I didn't get a fair process. That's what this is about."

Meyer said he has not seen the complaint.

"I am not aware of a complaint as of yet," Meyer said.

Sgt. John Thomas filed a complaint earlier this month with the EEOC. Thomas was passed over last fall for a fire inspector/lieutenant promotion despite having the highest score in the interview process. When Thomas threatened to file a grievance with the city because he had been told by one of the interviewers the job would go to the highest scoring of the five applicants, Meyer offered Thomas a newly created fire recruiter job that had not been approved by Columbus Council and did not exist in the city budget.

Thomas worked in the recruited position for nearly four months without a pay raise or a promotion to sergeant. He filed a grievance in March. Two weeks later, City Manager Isaiah Hugley temporarily approved the new recruiting position until council can incorporate it in the 2009 fiscal budget next month. Thomas was also granted more than $1,600 in back pay.

Mayor Jim Wetherington, the city's Public Safety director, said Meyer's actions in Thomas' case are "not acceptable."

Simonton declined to comments on the specifics of her complaint. The EEOC's practice is to investigate such complaints.

Among the conclusion in the city's investigation of Simonton's complaint:

-- Lang, as did Simonton, met the minimum requirements for the appointment having been promoted to captain in 1996 and subsequently appointed division chief/fire marshal in 2004.

-- The deputy chief appointment was at the discretion of the chief.

-- Meyer believes he selected the applicant with the best leadership skills and the best ability to increase the effectiveness of the department. The chief also noted that the successful candidate has demonstrated his leadership while effectively managing the Fire Prevention Division and in his new position remains responsible for the overall management of the Fire Prevention Division along with new responsibilities for the Training Division.

The Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services is currently under investigation by the Columbus Police Department Office of Professional Standards for the handling of a firefighter's positive drug test while operating an emergency vehicle. That investigation, which was launched in December after the Ledger-Enquirer reported Firefighter Zachary Allen wrecked a truck during a 2006 emergency run and tested positive for cocaine in a post-accident drug test, is expected to completed this week, a spokesperson for the mayor said.

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