By Nicki Gorny
Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.
MARION COUNTY, Fla. — Shari Hall, one of two finalists whom the County Commission considered last year to be chief of Marion County Fire Rescue, is suing the county and alleging that it engaged in gender discrimination by choosing the male finalist, Paul Nevels.
Before filing suit in circuit court earlier this month Hall lodged discrimination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The EEOC failed to make a determination as to a reasonable cause in her case within a 180-day window, according to the lawsuit, which left Hall free to pursue her case in court.
She is demanding a jury trial as well as more than $15,000 in damages.
Hall's argument is that, in September 2015, the county chose the clearly less qualified candidate in Nevels. She points out in her complaint that she outscored Nevels in the first round of interviews, for example, when interviewers gave her high marks in carrying out a leadership project, ideas on how to prepare the agency's budget and priorities for the agency. She also details her education- and experience-related qualifications, painting a stark contrast between her handle on emergency medical services and Nevels'
EMS is a key part of Marion County Fire Rescue's day-to-day operations, accounting for a significant percentage of the calls the agency receives. Hall is a state certified paramedic, according to the complaint, and is currently studying emergency medical management through a distance learning program through George Washington University School of Medicine. This is set to complement several degrees in firefighting and EMS that she already holds.
She landed a role as EMS coordinator shortly after she started with the agency in 1995, transferring there from Ocala Fire Rescue.
Nevels, by contrast, was not a licensed EMT when the board appointed him last year; nor, according to the complaint, was he qualified as an entry-level firefighter as he did not have a CPR card and had not taken federally required refresher courses.
In July 2015, early in the hiring process, the county adjusted the criteria for the position so that the fire chief would not need advanced education in firefighting and EMS. Some within Marion County Fire Rescue raised concern then that the new rules were paving a path for Nevels.
Nevels outscored Hall in a second round of interviews, when both finalists were asked about their experience reviewing construction plans and permits. There Nevels, who had previously served as Fire Rescue's building safety director and fire marshal, impressed the interviewers.
The Star-Banner last year reviewed the scoresheets from the interviews.
County Attorney Guy Minter declined to comment in-depth on ongoing litigation, but said in an emailed statement that gender played no role in the selection of the fire chief.
(c)2016 the Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Fla.)