GAP Victorious in U.S. District Court for D.C. as Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) won a legal victory in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (F&EMS). A federal judge ruled in favor of a temporary restraining order postponing an F&EMS-ordered psychological evaluation for a whistleblowing fire department captain.

Captain Vanessa Coleman has been steadily retaliated against since March 2008, stemming from fallout of the Mt. Pleasant apartment fire in Washington, D.C. (see Background below). In an attempt to order the unjustifiable psychological evaluation F&EMS officials set the date of the evaluation for January 21, 2009, the next business day in the District of Columbia after today.

“We are very pleased that the Judge recognized the potential violation of Capt. Coleman’s rights under D.C. law and the U.S. Constitution” stated GAP Senior Counsel Richard Condit, co-counsel for Coleman. “The Judge found that the potential harm to Capt. Coleman was palpable.”

The next hearing on the case, again to be heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is set for January 30, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.

Background

Captain Vanessa Coleman has been steadily retaliated against since March 2008, stemming from fallout of the Mt. Pleasant apartment fire in Washington, D.C. Despite a history beginning as a fire cadet in 1990, with subsequent promotions to Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Captain, and having annual performance reviews greater than “satisfactory,” Coleman has been singled out by department officials and made into a scapegoat for the problems stemming from the fire. At the fire, Coleman was directed away from the basement of the apartment building to the third floor. This diversion was later found to be of great importance, as fire officials now believe the fire originated in the basement. Audio of Coleman being ordered to the third floor can be found at this Web site: http://www.dcfirefeed.com/pleasant.htm

The retaliation against Coleman that has ensued since the filing is a laundry list of unacceptable actions which include: citations, a suspension, failure to support her authority as a captain, stripped duties, and a transfer. In July, Coleman received a notice that she was to report for a psychological evaluation, ordered by Assistant Chief Brian Lee. Upon reporting for the exam, she requested legal counsel, but was denied. Unwilling to submit to the exam under the conditions presented to her, Coleman was directed not to go back to work and to take sick leave until she was able to take a rescheduled psychological evaluation.

Months later, in August, Coleman and GAP staff met with F&EMS officials to discuss the order. At such meeting, according to a memo written from EMS Deputy General Counsel, Thelma Chichester:

The Department has offered to hold the pending Order for Cpt. Coleman to take the Fitness for Duty Examination as well as any administrative action which resulted from her failure to comply with a direct Order in abeyance pending the conclusion of the investigation into the charges of discrimination made by Cpt. Coleman.

After reaching this agreement, Coleman was finally allowed to return to work. Shortly after this meeting, Coleman received a notice that she was being charged with insubordination for failing to take the “fitness-for-duty” exam, as ordered.

On November 20, Coleman was contacted via telephone by an officer from the Police and Firefighters Clinic indicating that she was to report for a psychological evaluation tomorrow, November 26. On November 21, GAP filed a letter with Fire and EMS detailing the illegal nature of the order to require a fitness for duty examination including a psychological assessment. Despite the letter and attempts at communicating with the Department, Fire and EMS officials refuse to withdraw this order.

On January 5, 2009, in response to the concerns raised by GAP about the validity of the ordered evaluation, the Department issued a new written order setting January 21st as the new evaluation date. GAP challenged the new proposed order in D.C. Superior Court. In an unusual move, the Department then removed the case to federal court setting the stage for the decision today.

Contact: Richard Condit, Senior Counsel
Phone: 202.408.0034 ext. 142, cell 202-465-0515
Emailrichardc@whistleblower.org

Contact: Karen Gray, General Counsel
Phone: 202.408.0034, ext. 122
Emailkareng@whistleblower.org

Contact: Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Dir.
Phone: 202.408.0034, ext. 137
Emaildylanb@whistleblower.org

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

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