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Fla. EMT Says Firing is Retaliation

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- An emergency medical technician with the Plantation (Fla.) Fire Department says he was fired Dec. 27 in retaliation for suing the city for overtime pay and trying to organize a union.

The city says it fired Jude Diaz, 38, an 11-year veteran recovering from knee surgery, because he declined to respond to the city's request that he return to his duties or resign.

Diaz, who had the surgery in October, said he twice asked to be reassigned to light duty while he recovered, the same accommodation made to a co-worker last year.

"My career in the fire service in South Florida is done. There is really nowhere else I can go to get this type of job," Diaz said. "It will make it financially hard to provide for my wife, who is terminally ill. Her medical insurance is very costly. How do I provide for my family?"

He said the city denied his request to take unpaid leave through February.

"Diaz wants his job back, and he wants health insurance," said his attorney, Baldwin Robertson.

But Joel Gordon, a spokesman for the Plantation Fire Department, said Diaz's position - one of 12 in the department - was "essential" and had to be filled immediately. He said no light-duty positions were available.

Diaz called the firing "clear-cut discrimination. This was the city's last chance to get a union organizer out of the department." He helped wage an unsuccessful bid to organize a union in the Rescue Division in early 2005.

Several months later, Diaz was among 16 employees who sued the city, alleging they were owed overtime compensation. A federal judge ruled in their favor, awarding them $100,000 combined and $270,000 to their attorneys.

Diaz also joined six current and former Rescue Division employees in filing a federal suit in October 2005 claiming Chief Robert Pudney and two other administrators were harassing them for trying to organize the union. The suit has not yet been resolved.

"There is no evidence the city acted in retaliation," Gordon said.

"The union activity actually occurred nearly two years ago," he said. "The group was unsuccessful in their attempt to organize."

Gordon declined to comment further, citing Diaz's ongoing lawsuit against the city.

Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7920

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