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Legal Lesson of the Month: The Dinner Deadbeat

The emergency medical services can be full of interesting and tricky legal scenarios. While you can’t have an attorney ride with you, it behooves providers to have at least some familiarity with the principles, precedents, and major issues of EMS law. To that end EMS World is pleased to offer the EMS Legal Lesson of the Month.

These cases are presented by prominent attorneys in the EMS field. This month’s comes from Larry Bennett, program chair for fire science and emergency management at the University of Cincinnati. Bennett’s department publishes a monthly Fire & EMS and Safety Law newsletter; subscribe to that by e-mailing or read the latest edition here. Find this case and more in his section on EMS cases

Case: Melvin H. Brown v. UChicago Argonne LLC

Decided: July 2020

Verdict: The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern District (Chicago) granted summary judgment in favor of employer Argonne.


Facts: A firefighter with the Argonne Fire Department, Brown was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis on February 12, 2017. He returned to work March 20 but was then fired in June. He contended it was for taking FMLA leave. Argonne disputed that, claiming the termination was for Brown’s failure to reimburse a subordinate firefighter for the cost of meals, as well as intimidation and providing inaccurate information during the department’s investigation.

Brown had regularly participated in his battalion’s “dinner fund.” Members would discuss in the morning what they wanted for dinner that night and decide who would go get it, then give that member money. Firefighter Chris Weber joined the battalion in August 2016 and volunteered to do much of the meal shopping.

At some point Weber reported to his chief that Brown had “failed to make several contributions to the meal fund.” Weber e-mailed Brown seeking repayment of $52, but Brown did not respond.

Key quote: “Brown’s position that Argonne inadequately investigated Weber’s dinner fund complaint is, even if supported by the record, insufficient to establish pretext given the absence of evidence suggesting that Argonne did not sincerely believe that Brown had abused his authority in failing to reimburse Weber.”

Legal lesson: The FMLA protects against retaliation, but you still have to prove discipline was retaliatory.


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