Firefighter sues City of Norfolk for discrimination against sexual orientation

NORFOLK, Va – A retired Norfolk firefighter says he was forced out of his job after 27 years with the fire department because of his sexual orientation.

Court documents show Scott Phillips-Gartner began working for the City of Norfolk in 1991 as a telecommunications officer. He was promoted several times in the following years, first to firefighter, then to assistant fire marshal and senior member of the bomb squad.

According to court documents, Gartner updated his personnel records after he married his longtime male partner. Norfolk’s fire chief Roger Burris had access to the records.

Gartner claims Burris made several verbal attacks and treated him less favorably than heterosexual employees after he learned he was married to a man.

Gartner said he began to hear homosexual comments from Chief Burris, and said in court documents that the chief mocked him for his sexuality.

According to court documents, “Burris verbally attacked Gartner’s sexuality during a staff meeting by asking, ‘Where is Ms. Gartner?’, which prompted other coworkers to laugh.”

Gartner filed a complaint about the incident. Chief Ronnie Mann was brought in to investigate the complaints, but according to the court, Mann and Burris were friends.

When Gartner received further retaliation for his complaints, he took his complaints to the city auditor.

Gartner says the verbal attacks continued. According to the complaint, “Burris said that he was going to place Gartner ‘in the middle of a large crowd of demonstrators holding up a sign,’ implying that he wished he could set Gartner up to be attacked by protestors that opposed homosexual marriage.”

Gartner is now suing the city of Norfolk for claims he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation. Gartner says the work place was a “hostile work environment.”

According to court documents, Gartner was forced to retire after he was demoted and moved to work in a different building miles away from his office. Additionally, Gardner was told to turn in his firearm, work computer, cell phone and work vehicle.

Gartner says the city kept him on temporary work assignments with little or no work to do.

Court documents state the City of Norfolk denied Gartner’s request for routine bomb squad training and Gardner’s ability to maintain various work certifications, that directly resulted in Gartner losing pay and benefits.

Gartner filed nine grievances addressing discrimination and retaliation based on his sexual orientation, which include some against the City of Norfolk.