Bowling Green (KY) Fire Dept. Settles Lawsuit with Atheist Whistleblower December 6, 2020

Bowling Green (KY) Fire Dept. Settles Lawsuit with Atheist Whistleblower

In 2016, atheist Jeffrey Queen filed an unbelievable lawsuit against the city of Bowling Green (Kentucky) based on what he witnessed while working for the fire department.

The lawsuit only came after his complaints were ignored, some by Deputy Chief Dustin Rockrohr (also named in the lawsuit), and after he was formally discharged.

Here’s a list of most of the claims Queen made in the lawsuit. Not all of them. (We don’t have time for all of them.) Just most of them.

  • Assistant Chief of Training Norman Simpson referred to non-Christians as “pagans.”
  • Chief Jason Colson told Queen he needed to join a church.
  • Chief Paul Campbell told Queen to “get right with Jesus.”
  • Captain Todd Barnard said atheists “deserved to burn.”
  • Chief Donnie Frye said, “I’ll be damned if I work with [atheists],” and he was “sure as hell glad none of those fuckers work here.”
  • Queen says he was “forced” to participate in Bible study during dinner at the fire station.
  • After he admitted to being an atheist, Captain Eric Smith and another firefighter said they would “burn his house down.”
  • Queen says he was called “fa**ot” almost every day. Others called him a “queer.” (Not that it makes a difference, but Queen is straight and married to a woman.)
  • Queen witnessed colleagues saying they wouldn’t touch gay people because they “probably had AIDS.”
  • Queen was told, “If a homo works here, we’ll make sure he dies in a fire. We’ll chop his feet off.”
  • Queen said some of the firefighters refused to help a man with chest pain after learning he was gay.
  • He witnessed members of the Fire Department refer to African Americans as “hoodrats,” “thugs” and “n—–.”
  • He witnessed members of the Fire Department refer to Muslims as “towelheads,” “jihadis,” “ali-babas,” and “ sand n—–.”
  • He heard those same people say of Muslims, “we need to ship them all back where they came from” and “let the bombs torch them, they are going to hell anyway.”
  • One of his colleagues burned a copy of the Qur’an in front of the Fire Department while saying “burn them all.” (A video of that can be seen here).

Queen reported these things (anonymously) but he didn’t believe HR investigated them. He eventually took a leave of absence following the harassment before resigning due to the hostility.

Without Queen as a whistleblower, we likely wouldn’t know about any of those things. He was right to go public with them; unfortunately, he suffered as a result of it.

After that lawsuit was filed, the city and Rockrohr tried to get the courts to throw it out. They didn’t dispute what Queen witnessed, though. Instead, they claimed “that jokes, pranks, and teasing are all part of the fraternal environment at the Fire Department that Queen enjoyed and participated in.” But Queen obviously didn’t enjoy any of that. (It’s possible he smiled and nodded so as to not create a scene. But that’s just me speculating.)

The Fire Department also said harassment on the basis of Queen’s atheism wasn’t possible because they didn’t even know he was an atheist. Queen disputed that, saying that the comment about burning his house down was a direct response to his colleagues learning about his atheism.

In 2018. a judge ruled that there was more than enough reason for this case to move forward, as opposed to having it tossed out. There was plenty of information regarding religious discrimination and retaliation that a jury would have to sort out, the judge said, adding that the reasons the city wanted to dismiss the case were absurd.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit also ruled that neither the city nor Rockrohr should be granted immunity regarding the alleged violations of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

That opened the door for the lawsuit to proceed on the merits. Bowling Green officials wanted it thrown out. They failed. Again.

After all this time, there’s finally some closure to this case. Kind of…

Both sides recently agreed to settle the case out of court, according to reporter Justin Story of the Bowling Green Daily News. The terms of the settlement were not publicly disclosed.

If anyone is genuinely curious about what the city will have to pay Queen, the city’s future budget documents may offer some hints, but it’s also true that Queen was seeking more than $2 million in damages.

A statement of damages filed last month included claims of $2 million in compensatory damages for emotional distress, $182,655 for lost wages and $45,663 for lost benefits.

After all this time, if the city decided paying a substantial chunk of that to Queen was preferable to a court case that wasn’t looking very good for their side, I wouldn’t be surprised.

It’s good news for anyone who cares about justice and hates seeing bigotry from public servants.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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