Former Vernon fire chief sues city for unfair dismissal - InfoNews

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Former Vernon fire chief sues city for unfair dismissal

Former Vernon Fire Chief Keith Green is pictured with a restored 1894 fire hall bell in April 2016.
February 21, 2019 - 3:41 PM

VERNON - Former fire chief Keith Green is suing the City of Vernon alleging he was fired while he was off work sick, and the City refused to accommodate his disability and his rehabilitation back into work.

Green was let go by the Vernon Fire Department in August 2018 after being off work sick for almost two years. In the lawsuit filed in the B.C. Supreme Court Feb. 14. Green argues he is owed one year's salary, plus interest and court costs for having been unfairly dismissed. Green had an annual salary of $136,000 when he was fired.

Green is one of several high ranking staff to have left the fire department in the last few years, with court documents from a previous case last year depicting a fire department awash with internal problems.

The civil suit claims Green, who became Fire Chief for Vernon Fire Rescue Services in 2011, became "disabled due to work-related psychological disability" in September 2016 and ceased working. Green applied for workers' compensation benefits from WorkSafe B.C. in December 2016 but his claim was refused.

Following a formal review, WorkSafe B.C. accepted the claim in December 2017. The court documents state Green started to collaborate with WorkSafe B.C. in June 2018 on a return to work plan. But two months later Green received written termination from the City based on "frustration of contract" due to Green's "ongoing disability... and inability to return to full-time duties as the Fire Chief."

Green argues the City failed to accommodate his disability or cooperate with WorkSafe B.C. in his attempt to gradually return to work. Green alleges part of his employment contract stated he could not be terminated without cause unless the City gave him 12 months notice or 12 months salary, plus 12 per cent in lieu of benefits.

The court documents do not say whether Green was offered severance but do say Green was receiving workers compensation benefits and long term disability benefits paid by a private policy.

The City hired interim Fire Chief Dave Lind in the summer of 2016 and promoted him to the top job Aug. 28, 2018, 12 days after Green was dismissed.

Green's lawyer Conrad Margolis told in an email his client was one of many firefighters and first responders suffering from serious psychological conditions such as PTSD and depression.

"The Workers Compensation Act was amended last year to ensure that first responders who are exposed to trauma at work and develop a psychological disability are presumed to be suffering from a condition that is compensable under the WCB system, unless proven otherwise," Margolis wrote. "The City’s treatment of Mr. Green is inconsistent with the change in worker’s compensation law with respect to psychologically disabled first responders."

An email from the City of Vernon said they would not comment on "personnel matters."

The case casts a further shadow on the Vernon fire department.

Deputy fire chief Lawrie Skolrood and two other staffers left the service in late 2016; while a hidden camera caught two Vernon firefighter engaging in sexual activity in their fire chief's office, which led to their dismissal at the beginning of 2018. Court documents relating to the case contain allegations of members refusing to talk with each other as well as accusations of bullying and suspicions of document theft.

A Freedom of Information request filed by requesting a copy of a 2016 report conducted by Canadian Professional Management Services regarding the Vernon fire department, was declined by the City of Vernon in January.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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