A recent mediation hearing to settle a multi-million lawsuit brought by 18-year veteran, Pasadena Firefighter Carter Stephens in which he claims race discrimination and harassment, forced unjustified retirement, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, ended with no resolution and the City of Pasadena representatives saying, “you do not have a case,” according to Stephens. The matter is now scheduled to go to trial on October 29, 2007.
Stephens, a fit and relatively youthful-looking 43-year-old Black man, is currently on forced, permanent disability, determined by the Pasadena Fire Department and is having some difficulty living off of the $1,100 per month his disability income provides compared to his former pay which, with overtime, easily climbed over $8,000 per month.
Stephens’ career with the Pasadena Fire Department began in 1984 when he became a volunteer fire fighter in their auxiliary program. After nearly 24 months he was hired, successfully completed the training program and began fighting fires. He explained that his service and performance record has been satisfactory; noting that he regularly and consistently met or exceeded all performance standards and successfully passed the examination to qualify for a captain position in 1994.
At about the same time, Stephens explained that his life was about to change in a negative manner that set him on a circumstantial and downward spiral that would change his life.
After exiting a shopping mall in Pasadena he proceeded through the parking lot and as he approached his vehicle, stopped alongside another car parked in the mall parking lot to pick something up off-of the ground. Almost immediately, he was approached by a security officer and accused of vandalizing that automobile and several others.
Apparently, according to Stephens, someone had vandalized several cars parked in the mall parking lot and a recently fired security officer, in an attempt to salvage his job, fingered Stephens as the vandal. The Pasadena Police were notified and conducted a preliminary investigation. Stephens was facing several misdemeanor charges of vandalism even though he explained that he had not participated in any vandalism.
“Vandalizing automobiles in a parking lot is a prank that is usually attributable to young people,” Stephens said. “Unfortunately for me, as an adult with a great career and no criminal history, I was not able to convince the arresting officers, who chose to arrest me at the fire station several days later, that I had no reason to vandalize the automobiles belonging to individuals I did not know and that I had not vandalized anything.”
Stephens bailed out of jail immediately, hired Attorney Marilyn Mora and prepared to defend himself, his reputation, and ultimately his career, he would later learn, in court. When Mora strangely disappeared days before the trial, Stephens decided to defend himself, believing that he could demonstrate to the jurors that he had neither the motive nor the inclination to participate in random acts of juvenile vandalism.
The jury was not convinced and Stephens was found guilty of the charges. And, despite meeting all of the conditions of his sentence which included paying restitution to the victims and completing community service, his fire department colleagues began to harass him, accuse him of being a criminal and generally ostracizing him from the normal, congenial relations that existed inside the fire department.
“It was at that time that open as well as covert acts of intimidation were directed at me in a manner that became unbearable,” Stephens explained. “The captain referred to me as a (N-word), fellow officers urinated on my equipment, my automobile was vandalized on a regular basis, and other acts of intimidation were thrust upon me which I believe were intended to force me to resign.”
While on leave Stephens sought the treatment of a psychiatrist to better handle the harassment from his fellow firefighters. “I thought counseling would assist me in dealing with the daily barrage of intimidation, including more than 125 incidents that I documented and reported to my superiors that were directed at me by other firefighters,” he said. “I thought that the treatment I sought would be confidential and certainly did not realize that it would eventually be used against me by the Pasadena Fire Department.”
When Stephens returned to work, the department learned that Stephens had been involved in counseling and forced him to see their psychologist to evaluate his suitability to perform his regular duties as a firefighter. Even though his psychiatrist determined that he was stable, had no lingering issues that would impact his day-to-day duties and responsibilities, and was fit to perform his job, the Pasadena Fire Department psychologist determined that he was unfit for duty and he was forced to take a non-work related, disability/termination/retirement.
Stephens current attorney, Brent Bauxbaum, has indicated the City of Pasadena’s “apathetic attitude and disgraceful actions concerning Mr. Stephens’ requests and legal proceedings have affected a destruction of his life.” Stephens has not only lost his job but also most of the accoutrements of gainful employment including his home, cars, personal property, and equally importantly his dignity, self respect and much of his self-esteem.
The recent mediation hearing to resolve Stephens’ case did not offer any hope for a satisfactory outcome which means that his October trial will provide a final opportunity for him to secure the reversal of his forced retirement and the reinstatement of his job as a firefighter as well as the back pay and benefits he has been denied since his nightmare began.