Fire district faces federal lawsuit
The El Dorado Hills Fire Board has reinstated Capt. Dave Merino, who spent two years on paid administrative leave along with fellow Capt. Steve Maranville for allegedly violating the district’s Non-Harassment Policy.
Both captains were placed on leave when firefighter Robyn Toy, the subject of the alleged harassment, filed a hostile work environment complaint with the district and, according to former Chief Brian Veerkamp, threatened to file a separate suit against the district.
Maranville faced termination before taking the district’s retirement incentive package late in 2010. Merino faced demotion from captain to firefighter.
An independent investigation and hearings followed Toy’s allegations. The proposed punishment led Merino and Maranville to file a federal lawsuit against the district, alleging violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the False Claims Act and their first amendment right to free speech. The suit claims the captains were victims of a tainted departmental investigation, and that the discipline was retaliation for their involvement in several incidents that portrayed district administration, especially Veerkamp, in a negative light.
The lawsuit outlines a history of run-ins with district administration, and cites prior hostile work environment claims, gender discrimination, retaliation, reckless driving with a patient, license suspension from DUIs, endangerment of a patient and rigging a promotion test, all of which were handled internally, none resulting in termination or demotion.
Village Life outlined the details of the Merino/Maranville lawsuit in February. See story on villagelife.com (search Maranville).
The district, Merino and Maranville agreed to non-binding arbitration in April 2010. The federal lawsuit was continued several times pending the arbitrator’s ruling, which the district received on May 9.
Board President Greg Durante would only say that arbitrator ruled in Merino and Maranville’s favor, and that the board followed his recommendation, rescinded the discipline and reinstated Merino on May 19.
Reached by phone last week, Maranville said he was sad that the process took two years, but happy that justice was eventually served, adding that he and Merino are proceeding with the federal lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Merino and Maranville were collectively paid more than $400,000 in base salary while on leave, based on their rank and seniority. Legal costs and the requisite backfilling of their captain positions with overtime puts the actual cost to the district much higher.
The incident also cost the captains. In recent years, El Dorado Hills Fire captains average more than $50,000 per year in overtime and education bonuses, according to the State Controller’s Special District salary reports for 2009. There’s no overtime on administrative leave. The subject must check in each morning, five days a week, and be able to report to work on an hour’s notice.
Durante said his board decided to reinstate Merino strictly based on the facts in the arbitrator’s report; the pending lawsuits didn’t affect the decision.
Toy was unavailable for comment. No additional lawsuits were filed against the district as of last week, according to district legal council Mike Cook.