A panel of three City of Pine Bluff employees will decide the fate of a firefighter who was fired Oct. 2 after, among other things, she continued to drive a fire truck with a suspended driver’s license.
Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell fired Engineer Kahdijan Miller for conduct unbecoming a member of the department and for violating department policies and state law by having a suspended driver’s license for a number of months and not reporting it to her superiors, as well as misdemeanor arrest warrants for violating the Arkansas Hot Check law and failure to appeal in court.
The panel, made up of Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers, acting Parks and Recreation Director Trudy Redus and Shayree Joshua, heard more than two hours of testimony from Miller and Howell Tuesday morning and will have 10 days to make a decision.
They can either uphold the firing, reverse it or modify the discipline imposed. The review panels were created after the Pine Bluff City Council did away with the Civil Service Commission.
Miller is seeking to be reinstated and have an opportunity to be promoted, saying that she was fired a day before promotional exams for the department were held. In her testimony, she said female firefighters in the department are treated differently than male firefighters and that she had complained about sexual harassment as far back as 2010. She said she had gone to federal court after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Court records show that after a three-day trial in 2014, a federal court jury found for the city in the sexual discrimination lawsuit Miller filed. Howell said he became aware of Miller’s warrants and suspended driver’s license in September when he was approached by a police officer; after investigating, Howell said he determined that the information was valid. He said he and Miller played phone tag until late in the evening when she sent him a text message asking that she be allowed to be off on her next scheduled work day to take care of the problems.
He said he denied the request because Miller was scheduled to work on a Sunday, and he knew the court offices would be closed Sunday. On a Monday, he said Miller called Assistant chief Ernst Jones asking what she should do and was told to go take care of what she needed to do, then they would address her situation.
Howell said that on a Tuesday was the first time he had talked directly to her, and at that meeting “there was a lot of back and forth, a lot of reluctance to get back to the topic.”
Howell said that after obtaining a complete driving history for Miller from driver control on Sept. 13, he learned that she had been sent a letter in 2015 warning her that her license could be suspended, and she had received citations for driving on a suspended license in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
In addition, her license had been suspended for six months from Jan. 17 to Sept. 17 of this year.
“Department policies say you must maintain a valid driver’s license and that didn’t take place,” Howell said. Howell also said that Miller’s primary job as an engineer was to “drive the fire truck.”
He went on to say that the department has received claims from two attorneys for damages resulting in accidents involving fire trucks that Miller was driving, and during at least one of those accidents, her license had been suspended.
During her initial testimony, Miller said she had met with Howell and Jones twice, and both times they asked the same questions. She also said they did not seek input from her immediate supervisor, Lt. Brett Pierce, and he was not allowed to take part in any disciplinary proceedings against her.
Miller also mentioned another firefighter who had been disciplined after he brought his minor daughter to a fire station where he was assigned and left her there while he took a department vehicle outside the city limits to visit a girlfriend, then returned and went to a fire.
“He was not terminated, and I feel like I should have been given the same opportunity,” Miller said.
Later she mentioned two other engineers she said were involved in off-duty accident and were cited for DWI or DUI and were not terminated, adding that one of them has now retired. In her final argument, Miller said that during the federal court trial, Howell, whom she said she had worked closely with when she was the department’s Life Safety officer, testified that the two were not close.
“When he fired me he said it was time to close this chapter,” Miller said. “In his mind I was nonexistent, and he used the issue of my driver’s license to make that happen.”
Asked if she should receive any punishment, Miller said she thought being suspended for five 24-hours shifts without pay would he the fair thing to do. Firefighters work 10 24-hour shifts per month Battalion Chief Ed Pinkins had recommended that she be suspended for three 24-hours shifts, but Howell said when Pinkins made that recommendation, he did not have all the facts available.