Tag Archives: fired

Miami officers fired for ‘jokes’ about target practice in primarily black neighborhoods

Three police officers were fired for making comments on a group chat about using Miami’s primarily black neighborhoods for target practice.

Officers Kevin Bergnes, Miguel Valdes and Bruce Alcin were fired on Dec. 23, after an internal affairs investigation concluded that they violated department policies, said the Miami Herald, citing documents it obtained.

The remarks angered local civil rights activists keeping tabs on a department that is currently scrutinized by the U.S. Department of Justice for a pattern of excessive force.

“It’s indicative of the casual conversations and comments that young and even more seasoned police officers are used to making without a lot of repercussions,” said Julia Dawson, an activist who has been part of law enforcement oversight panels in Miami.

The Miami police department confirmed that officers Bergnes, Valdes and Alcin were fired, but did not explain the reasons behind the dismissals.

In a statement, Chief Rodolfo Llanes said an internal affairs investigation found the officers’ actions “inconsistent with the mission and values of our department.”

Attorney Stephan Lopez, who represents the three officers, told The Associated Press that his clients were joking and that the comments were taken out of context. He said Alcin is African-American and Valdes has a black grandfather.

“They wanted to make an example out of this. But they made an example of the wrong people,” Lopez said. “These guys didn’t shoot anybody. They were clearly joking around. They are kids. You don’t terminate them the day before Christmas Eve.”

The incident happened June 30, when the three officers responded to other rookie colleagues’ questions about shooting ranges in a WhatsApp chat they often used to communicate, the paper said. According to documents obtained by the Herald, the officers-in-training shared department information on that thread.

It said the documents show Bergnes sarcastically suggested the friend looking for a shooting range try a Bank of America, adding “they’ll even give you some cash.” He then suggested Model City — the police district that includes Liberty City and handles the bulk of the city’s shootings — as another location.

Valdes suggested a particular intersection in the Overtown community, according to the paper. It added that Alcin followed up, saying Valdes “wouldn’t understand” until he’s worked there.

The next day, an officer warned them that their words were offensive even though she didn’t think they were racist. “Your words can come back to bite you,” she allegedly wrote.

A sergeant learned of the conversation and ordered one officer to apologize. He also wrote a memo to a lieutenant about the matter, according to the Herald. Internal affairs began an investigation and concluded on Dec. 19 that they broke social media, courtesy and responsibility rules, the paper said.

Lopez, the attorney, said it’s too early to say whether he will file a lawsuit for wrongful termination or negotiate to get their jobs back. The officers were still on probation after being sworn in earlier this year.

Javier Ortiz, president of the police union, said he didn’t agree with the “joking texts” but that it wasn’t enough for dismissal. He said the city manager would “rather focus on text messages than the senseless killings and violent crime.”

The incident came months after the city of Miami agreed to go under supervision of the U.S. Justice Department to reform its policing after a series of police shootings from 2008 to 2011. The agreement followed a report that questioned 33 police shootings, including seven black men and teenagers who were killed in a short time.


Hispanic woman fired for reporting harassment by pro-Trump co-workers

A Hispanic woman says her white co-workers at an Iowa claims office used images of Donald Trump to racially harass her for months after they learned she was angered by his description of Mexican immigrants as rapists, according to a civil rights lawsuit she filed against her company.

Alexandra Avila’s co-workers at Sedgwick Claims Management Services — where they administered benefits for Wal-Mart employees — began calling her an “illegal immigrant” even though she’s a natural-born U.S. citizen, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Iowa district court. The suit claims her former co-workers placed a picture of an angry-looking Trump as Avila’s computer’s screensaver, signed her up to volunteer for his campaign and sent her racist memes, including one that read: “How’s Mr. Donald Trump going to deport all these illegals? Juan by Juan.”

The Republican presidential candidate’s promise to build a border wall to keep out Mexican immigrants has for months contributed to racial tensions nationwide. “Build a wall” chants have been used by high school students to taunt Latino opponents at sporting events in multiple states, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana. At Kent State University, Latinos marching in the Homecoming parade this month said they were taunted with the same chant.

Avila, a 32-year-old mother of one who worked at Sedgwick for three years, claims she faced similar heckling at her white-collar workplace in Coralville, Iowa, from the beginning of Trump’s campaign in June 2015 until after she was fired five months later.

“It’s been a weird political season where one candidate is taking public stances on things that, if the same words were said in the workplace, might constitute violations of our civil rights laws,” said Avila’s attorney, Paige Fiedler. “His candidacy has emboldened some people to feel like that doesn’t violate social norms anymore.”

Lesley Gudehus, spokeswoman for Memphis, Tennessee-based Sedgwick, declined comment on the lawsuit.

Avila, born in California to Mexican parents, told colleagues she was upset with Trump’s 2015 campaign launch when he said of Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Soon after, the lawsuit claims, colleagues removed the photo Avila had of her young daughter as her computer screensaver and replaced it with a picture of Trump yelling and pointing his finger. When Avila removed the photo, they kept switching it back to Trump, the suit alleges.

An email arrived from the Trump campaign last fall thanking her for the support and asking how she wanted to help, according to the suit. Avila also claims her colleagues sent offensive memes, including one showing a brown-skinned man that read: “Found Jesus — he stabbed me twice.”

When her department was voting on a potluck menu, one co-worker said Avila was ineligible because she was an “illegal immigrant,” drawing laughter from Avila’s boss, the lawsuit claims. Avila contends that after she complained about the harassment, the company accused her of falsifying timecards by claiming she worked minutes more time than she actually did.

Avila was fired last November and escorted out, with Sedgwick saying it would send her personal property later. When her belongings arrived from FedEx, Avila says they contained a handwritten note that called her “La Trumpa” and added: “Illegal immigrants can’t vote or work. Good luck finding a job.”

“Getting that box in the mail was a horrific experience,” Fiedler says.

After her firing, a co-worker sent her an invitation to a Trump rally on Facebook, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit, which names Sedgwick and two supervisors, alleges Avila suffered discrimination based on national origin and that the company failed to pay wages she earned.


Milwaukee police board will take up Manney appeal in March

A former Milwaukee police officer who is appealing his firing after he shot and killed an unarmed man in a park last year will have a trial before the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners in March.

Christopher Manney was fired in October, months after he shot Dontre Hamilton.

Manney, who is white, said he acted in self-defense when he shot Hamilton 14 times in April.

But police Chief Edward Flynn said Manney ignored department policy and treated Hamilton, who is black, like a criminal by frisking him. Hamilton’s family has said the man suffered from schizophrenia.

The police commissioners’ board says it initially set a trial date for Feb. 27, but both sides requested an adjournment. So the trial will now be held in March. A final date hasn’t been set.

EEOC sues Florida eye clinic for sex discrimination against transgender worker

Authorities say the Lakeland Eye Clinic in Lakeland, Florida, discriminated based on sex in violation of federal law by firing an employee because she is transgender, because she was transitioning and because she did not conform to the employer’s gender-based expectations, preferences or stereotypes.

The charges are made in a lawsuit filed on Sept. 25 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint is one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the agency alleging sex discrimination against transgender individuals. The other case, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. also was filed on Sept. 25.  

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit against Lakeland Eye Clinic, the defendant’s employee had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment. However, after she came out as a transgender individual and began to present as a woman, Lakeland fired her.

Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including that based on gender stereotyping. The EEOC filed suit against Lakeland Eye Clinic in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The suit seeks both monetary and injunctive relief.

The lawsuit is part of the EEOC’s ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan. The commission adopted the plan in December 2012. The plan includes “coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply” as a top commission enforcement priority.

Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District Office, pointed out that in 2011, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force completed a study that found, in Florida, 81 percent of transgender individuals responding to the survey experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job and 56 percent experienced an adverse job action. 

Weisberg said, “With workplace discrimination against transgender individuals reported at these levels, EEOC stands ready to enforce the rights of transgender employees secured by Title VII.”

The second suit was filed against Detroit-based R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. for discharging a funeral director because she informed them that, as part of her gender transition from male to female, she intended to return to work presenting con­sistent with her gender identity as a woman.

The EEOC charged in its suit that Harris violated Title VII by firing the funeral director because of her transgender status, because of her gender transition, and based on gender-based stereotypes.

Professor fired from Christian university after likeness appears on Holy City Brewing beer

An associate professor says he was fired from Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina, after his likeness appeared on cans for Holy City Brewing’s Chucktown Follicle Brown beer.

The Charleston City Paper reported the story, quoting Roof as saying, “They said that this was not an image for the Christian environment and that it may seem to students that I am endorsing the use of alcohol.”

The university is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention and, according to the City Paper, potential employees write a statement of faith as part of the hiring process.

The beer can image shows Roof in his award-winning beard and waxed mustache.

Responding on its Facebook page, Holy City Brewing said, “HCB is shocked and disappointed at the news that our good friend Paul Roof was fired from CSU for his image on our beer can. We brewed Chucktown Follicle Brown for the Holy City Beard and Mustache Society to help raise money for Lowcountry Women with Wings at their annual Southeastern Beard and Mustache Championships. Paul is a good man and is a huge part of the Charleston community that has helped raise tons of money for Charleston charities. We are honored that he let us put his image on our can!”

Holy City Brewing is in the craft beer business in Charleston. The company’s website says, “Holy City Brewing has become a local favorite in a very short time. Their year rounds are true classics, a hoppy German pilsner and a porter that, somehow, is still refreshing in warm weather. Seasonals run the gamut from IPA, to stout, to Belgian Strong Pale Ale, to bacon porter. Yes, bacon porter. Don’t tell your cardiologist.”

Ohio teacher fired for remark against black president

An Ohio teacher has been fired after a black student who said he wanted to become president claimed the teacher told him the nation didn’t need another black commander in chief.

The Fairfield Board of Education voted 4-0 last week to fire science teacher Gil Voigt from Fairfield Freshman School, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

“The district felt that the evidence was sufficient to support the termination of Mr. Voigt’s employment,” Superintendent Paul Otten said in statement.

Voigt did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday but has said the student misquoted him.

Voigt, who is white, told school officials that what he actually told the teen was that he doesn’t think the nation can afford another president like Barack Obama, “whether he’s black or white.”

A state referee investigating Voigt found that explanation was not credible.

The referee also found Voigt had made other offensive comments in class over the years, including an accusation that in 2008, he trained his laser pointer at a black student and said he looked like “an African-American Rudolph.”

Voigt told school officials that he was only repeating what another student had said but later acknowledged his conduct had been inappropriate.

In 2012, Voigt was accused of calling a student stupid and implying that he and some of his classmates were gay.

In that incident, Voigt denied making any insulting comments to students and told school officials that a group of students in his class were colluding against him.

The state referee found Voigt’s explanation for those two incidents to also be not credible.

“Voigt repeatedly engaged in conduct that is harmful to the well-being of his students,” the state referee wrote in an April 11 report given to the board of education. “He has made race-based, culturally based and insulting comments to students over a period of years. He was warned on multiple occasions that if his behavior continued that he would be subject to termination. Unfortunately, for both Voigt and his students, he did not alter his conduct.”

Voigt may appeal his firing to a Butler County court. The Ohio Department of Education will investigate to decide what to do about his teaching license.

Voigt taught in Fairfield schools since 2000. He had been on unpaid leave since December following a parent’s complaint about the Obama remark.

Nun resigns Catholic school post amid controversy over ousting of gay teacher

The president of a suburban Seattle Catholic school has resigned in the turmoil following the school’s decision to force out a vice principal who married his same-sex partner.

Eastside Catholic School trustees have accepted Sister Mary Tracy’s resignation, effective immediately. In an email sent to parents, staff and others this week evening, trustees said it was a “difficult but necessary decision” for Tracy.

The school and former vice principal Mark Zmuda have disputed the circumstances of his December departure. Zmuda says he was fired, but the school says he resigned after acknowledging that his marriage violated Catholic teaching and thus the terms of his contract.

Students and others have protested Zmuda’s departure.

Tracy was not immediately reachable by phone, and school lawyer Mike Patterson said he had no additional comment.

“Sister Mary came to this decision after much prayer and reflection,” the trustees’ email said. “For Sister Mary it was a difficult but necessary decision so that a new leader can be brought in to ensure the entire Eastside Catholic community is on a positive path forward.”

Tracy is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. The school’s website says she joined Eastside Catholic in 2010, bringing “more than 35 years of Catholic school leadership.”

Interim trustee co-chairmen Tom Padilla and Brad Bastian said they realized that students, teachers, parents and others “may have questions.” They announced a parents-only town-hall meeting for Jan. 23, with additional meetings planned but not yet scheduled.

Just last week, Catholics protesting the departure of Zmuda, a popular teacher and coach as well as vice principal, turned in a petition to both Eastside Catholic and the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

The petitions turned in on Jan. 15 were gathered by Faithful America, a national Christian organization, which called on the archdiocese to reinstate Zmuda.

Another petition started on change.org by the senior class president has gathered more than 30,000 signatures since late December. It wants to change the Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage.

In response to last week’s protest, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said, “The recent personnel decision by the board and administrators of Eastside Catholic regarding Mr. Zmuda was made after a great deal of prayer and consultation. In no way was their goal to be discriminatory to anyone but to be faithful to their mission as a Catholic school.”

Archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said that he knew only that Tracy had submitted her resignation. He said Eastside Catholic is a private Catholic school that is not owned by the archdiocese.

Earlier this month, a part-time musical coach at Eastside Catholic who recently announced she is engaged to her same-sex partner said the school gave her a new employment agreement as an independent contractor.

Stephanie Merrow said she was told her marital status doesn’t matter. Her contract did not talk about Catholic teachings, she said.

Merrow said she wanted to go public to support the students who have been protesting on behalf of Zmuda.

Eastside Catholic has about 900 students, mostly in high school.

Vikings hire counsel to investigate Kluwe’s claim he was fired for pro-gay stance

The Minnesota Vikings have hired a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and a former federal trial attorney to conduct an investigation into Chris Kluwe’s allegations that he was released from the team due to his support of gay marriage.

The team made the announcement a day after Kluwe penned a scathing article alleging that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made anti-gay comments during team meetings.

Priefer has denied Kluwe’s allegations.

Former Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court Eric Magnuson and former Justice Department attorney Chris Madel will lead the investigation.

Vikings President Mark Wilf says “it is extremely important for the Vikings organization to react immediately and comprehensively with an independent review of these allegations.”

Cracker Barrel returns ‘Duck Dynasty’ products to stores

Cracker Barrel late last week removed some “Duck Dynasty” products to avoid offending some customers, the company announced on its Facebook page.

But then the company returned the products to its stores after getting hit with complaints, including one Fox News celebrity Mike Huckabee and another from right-wing Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins.

Cracker Barrel, in a statement to customers, said, “When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain ‘Duck Dynasty’ items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that’s just what we’ve done. You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong.…We listened.”

The company apologized for removing the items amid the controversy over homophobic, racist and sexist statements Phil Robertson, star of “Duck Dynasty” made to GQ magazine. Cracker Barrel then restated a commitment to respecting “all individuals” and their “right to express their beliefs.”

Cracker Barrel was long the target of a boycott by LGBT consumers and allies — and many people have yet to return to the restaurants with the faux-country atmosphere. In 1991, Cracker Barrel instituted a short-lived policy banning the hiring of gay people and allowing for the firing of some employees. Not until 2002 did shareholders force the company to adopt a policy banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The company also has been in trouble for racial discrimination and sex discrimination.

Today Cracker Barrel Old Country Store/Wholesome Fixin’s has a rating of 45 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Equality guide.

The company earned 15 points for a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, five points for some spousal benefits,  15 points for engaging in “appropriate and respectful advertising” and 10 points for having an LGBT resource group.

The company does not have a policy that includes gender identity, domestic partner health insurance or equal health coverage for transgender individuals.

Pennsylvania Catholic school teacher fired for gay wedding

A gay teacher at a Catholic high school was fired late last week after he applied for a marriage license.

Michael Griffin was fired from Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, Pa., after administrators said his obtaining a license to marry his same-sex partner was a violation of his contract.

Father James McCloskey, the school’s headmaster, said in a statement that faculty at the school are required to follow church teachings, NBC Philadelphia reported.

He said in the statement that Griffin’s decision “contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment. In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony.”

Griffin, who graduated from the school and has taught French and Spanish there for 12 years, said that his relationship with his partner of 12 years wasn’t a secret from the school and that his partner had even been to McCloskey’s house.

Griffin lives in New Jersey, which became the 14th state to recognize same-sex marriage in October.

The following is the letter McCloskey released on Dec. 9:

In recent days, our school has been the subject of news stories arising from the decision to terminate the employment of Mr. Michael Griffin as a teacher at Holy Ghost Prep.  We acknowledge that this decision has been difficult for everyone involved – for Mr. Griffin certainly, but also for students, families, faculty and staff, our alumni and all who are a part of the Holy Ghost community.  We regret the pain that this has caused to any and all involved.

In response to press questions about this matter, the school issued the following statement on Saturday, December 7th. The statement is as follows:

 “At a meeting in my office yesterday (December 6th), teacher Michael Griffin made clear that he intends to obtain a license to marry his same sex partner.  Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment.  In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision in his contract, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony.  Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately.”

I have included the statement in an effort to keep everyone in our school community fully informed about this matter, and we will continue to do so as we move forward.  


Fr. James McCloskey, C.S.Sp.