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Brock Bryant settles with fire district following his claims of civil rights violations

PMG FILE PHOTO - Columbia River Fire and Rescue has settled a lawsuit that was filed against it by a former employee. The district will pay $15,000, while the insurance will cover $77,593 of the settlement.Columbia River Fire and Rescue has settled with a former employee who filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court last year.

The lawsuit was filed by Brock Bryant, a former probationary firefighter with CRFR, in U.S. District Court in Portland. In it, Bryant alleges that Fire Chief Michael Greisen and Division Chiefs David Coombs and Josh Marks, who acted as supervisors, deprived him of his civil rights.

Bryant filed the lawsuit through his legal counsel, Scott Hunt, an attorney with Busse and Hunt in Portland. The lawsuit alleges nine separate claims including violations of Bryant's right to free speech, retaliation for reporting violations of state or federal law, retaliation for whistleblowing, racial discrimination, aiding and abetting, wrongful discharge and intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress.

Bryant's attorneys originally sought $300,000 in economic damages for back pay and $800,000 in damages for emotional distress and injury to reputation. The lawsuit also sought punitive damages of $80,000 each from Greisen, Coombs and Marks.

The settlement agreement , which was signed in mid-June by all parties, awards $150,000 to Bryant. CRFR will be responsible for paying $15,000 in gross wages, while the district's insurance carrier will be responsible for paying $77,593. The final portion of money will be used to pay Bryant's legal counsel $57,406, the settlement states, which is payable by the insurance carrier.

Bryant was hired as probationary firefighter from July 2016 to May 2017 before he was terminated on May 1 by Coombs, the lawsuit states. After filing a union grievance, Bryant returned to work with the department in July 2017 for another six-month probationary period until mid-September. He was then placed on administrative leave one day before his probation period ended, and was terminated a second time on Sept. 22 by Greisen.

Bryant exercised his right to free speech before he was terminated in May 2017 by reporting "what he believed in good faith to be conduct that was unlawful discrimination, and/or retaliation, and/or harassment contrary to generally accepted firefighting rules, regulations and standards," the lawsuit states.

Prior to his second termination in September, Bryant reported "about racial harassment, and/or by reporting and/or complaining about unlawful discrimination while participating in an internal investigation, and/or by participating in preparing and filing a grievance through his union, St. Helens Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 3215," court documents state.

The lawsuit alleges that CRFR, Greisen, Coombs and Marks retaliated against Bryant in numerous ways, including by subjecting him to a hostile work environment, setting him up to fail, setting him up with a more onerous and difficult training schedule, being instructed to act in an unsafe manner, being given the runaround when asking for back pay and other work needs, and being required to wear a different colored helmet, court records indicate.

Hunt, Bryant's attorney, said he did not want to further explain specific details of the case and Bryant's claims, but said he hopes standards will be set within the district to treat all probationary employees uniformly and fairly.

"I respect the individuals who were courageous enough to speak the truth, which helped Mr. Bryant in his case," Hunt said. "I am optimistic that positive changes have been made, and will be made, as a result of his lawsuit."

CRFR did not respond to requests for comment by the Spotlight's holiday press time Wednesday, July 3.

The claims made in the lawsuit were dismissed with prejudice, according to the settlement.

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