Ex-firefighter sues Fla. city over drug firing

The veteran lieutenant claims city officials violated his privacy rights by telling the public and local media he had failed a drug test

By Molly Moorhead
The St. Petersburg Times

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. — A firefighter who was fired last year for violating the city's drug and alcohol policy filed a lawsuit against his former employer this week.

Shawn Baptist, a veteran lieutenant, claims city officials violated his privacy rights by telling the public and local media he had failed a drug test.

Baptist, 42, says he cannot get a job anywhere now because of the disclosure of what he calls private medical information. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages.

"If you're going to be that stupid to release stuff against federal law, you're going to have to pay for it," he said Thursday.

The suit cites several newspaper and online stories that quote fire Chief Keith Williams and City Manager Steve Spina saying Baptist had failed a drug test.

He was fired in April 2009 after submitting to a random drug test with several other city employees. Baptist says the lab that administered the test told him he failed it, and the city fired him because it was his second violation of the drug policy. But Baptist says he's never seen the lab result, and the first violation, from 2002, was not a failed test.

"There were some circumstances around that, but it was a negative drug test," he said, declining to elaborate.

The information surrounding his firing was contained in two documents, a "last chance agreement" from 2002 (which said another violation would result in his firing) and his termination papers from last year. Baptist says the 2002 document never should have been released because it contains medical information.

Spina acknowledged that the 2002 paperwork was in Baptist's private medical file. But he said it was filed there by mistake, and it should have been in his open personnel file because it's a public record.

"There was no intent to violate his privacy," Spina said. "But when you work for a public agency in a high-profile position, those things are public record."

Baptist, who is married with three children, remains head of the local firefighters' union.

And he's still trying to get his job back.

He appealed his firing and the matter went to arbitration. A decision is expected soon.

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