In the spring 2014, after a meetings with former Washington County Division of Emergency Services Director Kevin Lewis, former Deputy Director Charlie Summers, former interim EMS Coordinator Shawn Hartsock, Human Resources Director Stephanie Stone, and my union representative, it became increasing clear that DES and Washington County government had no intentions of working with me after a brief string of medical events.
Over the course of three years, I sustained four seizures. I followed up with my neurologist regularly who agreed that it takes time for the body to regulate medications and to find a definitive cause for the seizures.
According to Epilepsy.com driving restrictions imposed on such patients after a seizure range from three months to a year, depending on where one lives. Maryland requires a three month seizure free period compared to West Virginia, which requires a six month seizure free period. My neurologist regularly said there is no evidence to support a driving restriction for extended periods of time.
After the first three events, I was assigned to modified duty including quality assurance, education and was released by Lewis to return as a paramedic with a chauffeur- a measure that Lewis repeated many times was “cheaper than paying you your time and back filling your (shift) with overtime.”
Hiring the chauffeur came at no extra charge for the county as they were going through a change to add part-time paramedics to their staff to help aid stations that had difficulty finding advance life support providers.
My neurologist had cleared me medically to return to work and perform all my duties as a paramedic, the only restriction was driving which is dictated by state law.
As a cleared county preceptor trained in advanced techniques such as rapid sequence intubation, alternative/digital airway devices and automatic CPR devices, having newly hired employees chauffeur me gave the county a valuable resource for training and mentoring, a resource that Lewis stopped supporting after the meeting with Stone.
After the fourth and to this day final seizure, former Director Lewis requested a meeting with me. Present at this meeting was former interim EMS Coordinator Hartsock and Lewis. The meeting took place March 18, 2014, in Lewis’s office at DES headquarters. Hartsock sat quietly at the edge of the room, while Lewis suggested I resign, be terminated or be put through a lengthy “fit for duty” process and be terminated anyway. I was devastated and crying as I left.
The following day I received a phone call from Lewis. The conversation was wordy and provided no new information. However, later that week, I emailed Lewis regarding growing rumors that I had been terminated. Co-workers were advising that letters of interest had been sent out to part-time applicants immediately following the event to determine their interest in full-time employment with DES to fill my not yet vacant position. Also during this time frame, a staff meeting took place to which I was not invited. During this meeting, Hartsock discussed my position and condition with staff. I expressed my concerns regarding my perceived discrimination by Hartsock
The following weekend, Lewis texted me and advised that I needed to meet Monday with him and human resource director Stone. During this meeting Stone presented me with my annual salary and the salary of a communications specialist within the county: she referred to it as a lateral move. Not only was the salary considerably less, she was not able to discuss when this move could take place or if the position would even be full time. Additionally, this position requires certain education components that are only offered at specific times during the year. An added concern was the county had no posted communication specialist positions listed and after the original meeting at which time Lewis gave me three options, I felted intimidated and scared.
Again, I requested for reasonable accommodations to be made as they had in the past with a chauffeur or working in the office until my restriction had been lifted. This request was quickly shut down by Stone who advised the county “doesn’t have money to do that.” A bold statement, considering that Lewis stated repeatedly that it was a cheaper option. Lewis sat quietly in the meeting making little to no eye contact with me and providing no defense to his employee.
I continued to question the county’s budget as DES had a vacant EMS coordinator position for two years that overtime was being paid. It would be interesting to know that total. Stone or Lewis had no comment on this. Hiring with Washington County, especially with DES is a historically slow process with interviews, background checks, psychological evaluations and physical agility. A time frame that my driving restriction would be lifted and I would be able to return to normal duty. For example, when I was hired, the process took one year to complete.
I emphasized that my treating neurologist felt that I was capable and competent to perform my duties, just not drive. Stone said I “could not be a paramedic” and that Washington County did not have a light or modified duty policy. I asked how this situation was different than other times when a “modified” duty policy was in place. No official in the room could provide an answer. Again, Lewis sat quietly with no comment.
At these meetings, it was very apparent that Washington County had no intentions of working with me and likely already had a person in mind for my position.
I requested an appeal hearing before the county commissioners. Stone responded in an e-mail that I was denied this request. Why? She could provide no reason other than the Washington County Board of County Commissioners denied the request. There appears to be no policy as to which employee will get an appeal hearing and which one will be passed over.
Additionally, I requested a medical evaluation by an independent neurologist. Stone, with no medical experience denied this request, a request that Lewis initially suggested. Where was Lewis to defend his employee now?
After my termination, I filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission or EEOC. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, according to their website.
The investigation with the EEOC took several years, a process that I wasn’t prepared for. But, in the end, they issued a right to sue letter, giving me the choice to pursue a civil claim.
I simply wanted a fair chance to present my case before the county commissioners and try and maintain my position with DES, but that was blocked by human resource staff, the former DES director and county administrator.
There appears to be a common trend with Washington County and its human resources department. In recent weeks, another county employee was granted a federal probe after the EEOC found that Washington County discriminated against him for a medical issue.
It only takes one person, one experience to impose change. Hold people accountable for their actions. The actions that Washington County has taken against past and current employees are unfair and unethical and they must stop. If by telling my story, it stops this from happening to one more person, than I have been successful. If telling my story forces Washington County to change polices to stop this, than I have been successful.
Shock-Advised.com is a blog and news outlet that works with local agencies to provide news and personal outlooks related to fire and EMS news within Washington County. The opinions on this page do not necessarily represent the opinions of the writer’s or photographer’s employers. In recent weeks, a writer’s employer was contacted regarding a posted story that followed journalistic ethics and procedures. The former Washington County DES deputy director, according to the station officer, lodged the complaint. Let it be clear and use this as an example, actions like this will be considered harassment.
Todd Bowman is a senior writer and creator for Shock-Advised.com. This personal excerpt was a brief overview of the discrimination and unfair workplace practices he endured from Washington County government. He hopes that by telling his story other people will have the courage to step forward and take a stand.
Updated 6/30/2017 at 9:29 a.m.