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Talking About What Matters to Employees

LVBH Wins Multi-Million Verdict for Whistleblower Firefighter

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For the second time in less than six months, Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP won a multi-million dollar verdict for an employee seeking vindication of rights in an employment matter.

On March 18, 2016, a Solano County jury brought in a $2,357,000 verdict for Plaintiff Todd Milan, an apprentice firefighter, against the City of Vallejo.  The jury found that the Vallejo Fire Department retaliated against Mr. Milan for complaining to OSHA about regulation violations that occurred at a fire, and that the fire department failed to accommodate the post-traumatic stress disorder he developed at the fire.

In September 2011, Mr. Milan was in the 27th month of a 36-month apprenticeship program when his crew was called to a fire at a mobile home park.  A man who as a parapalegic was trapped inside the burning structure.  Mr. Milan was ordered into the structure and expected his captain to be right behind him with the hose.  Instead Mr. Milan was left alone to attempt to rescue the man, which he was unable to do as the fire grew so hot that it threatened his life as well.  Unfortunately, Mr. Milan had to leave the structure without the resident to save his own life.

Following the fire, Mr. Milan was disciplined for allegedly breaking the buddy system by going in alone.  Mr. Milan found out later that his battalion chief denied ordering him in and his captain didn’t have his gloves, which explained why he was not in the building putting water on the fire.

When OSHA came to investigate the fire and the injuries Mr. Milan suffered trying to accomplish the rescue, he told the investigator what happened at the fire.  Shortly after talking to OSHA, Mr. Milan was subject to a series of disciplinary actions which were in retaliation for his speaking out.

Although the Department was fully aware that Mr. Milan had developed PTSD as a result of the fire, no one entered into an interactive process with him to determine if any accommodation was needed.  While he was able to perform without a problem in fire situations as well as emergency medical calls, his PTSD anxiety manifested in the remaining tests he was required to take as an apprentice.  He requested additional training for the tests, a request that was haphazardly filled.  As a result, he failed his 30th test and was subsequently fired with no interactive process or accommodation.  Hence, the trial.

Partners Leslie Levy and Sharon Vinick prosecuted the case through nine weeks of trial before a Solano County jury in the courtroom of Judge Scott Kays. The jury deliberated 2 days and returned a verdict for Mr. Milan.  They awarded him $400,000 in emotional distress and $1,957,000 in economic loss.   As attorneys for Mr. Milan, Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP will also be entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees on account of the victory.

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