Shawnee Township Fire Department

Members of the Shawnee Township Fire Department give Nazi-style salutes.

The Detroit office of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has suggested that Shawnee Township in suburban Lima pay the Columbus Jewish Federation $10,000 in connection with a case with strong anti-Semitic overtones pitting the Township against a former fire department employee. A lawsuit may be in the offing.

The May 28, 2014 EEOC letter of recommendation involving former Fire Department Platoon Chief Paul Way also says the township board should train its staff on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, with emphasis on religious and racial harassment; inform the board of any future complaints; and help people report such complaints to outside sources and agencies.

The training was to have been completed within 90 days of issuance of the letter and the board was to have submitted a photocopy of the $10,000 check signed by the federation as proof of payment, according to the EEOC document.

David Kaplan, chief financial officer of the Columbus Jewish Federation, said he was not familiar with the case and did not know of receipt of any such check.

The only comment from the township board came in the form of a statement issued on behalf of Fire Chief Todd Truesdale by Frank Hatfield, an attorney with Fishel Hass Kim Albrecht LLP of Columbus.

“In its determination,” the statement read, “the EEOC made no finding with respect to the allegations in Mr. Way’s charge. Rather, the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue letter to Mr. Way on Aug. 12, 2014. As a result, Mr. Way has 90 days to commence a civil action against the township for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”

The statement also noted that discussions between Shawnee Township officials and the EEOC were fruitless.

“Contrary to reports, the township was not ‘ordered’ to pay $10,000 to the Columbus Jewish Federation, or otherwise ‘punished’ by the EEOC,” the statement said. “However, the township did engage in good faith discussions to resolve the matter with the EEOC during its conciliation process. Such efforts were unsuccessful. Out of respect for the EEOC’s conciliation process, no further comment will be made by the Township.”

Early in May 2013, Way wrote the EEOC claiming he was fired in December 2012 for minor infractions affecting his 14-year department career. The department, meanwhile, based Way’s termination on what its spokesman said were violations of departmental rules.

Way and Khan last year provided materials to the Cleveland Jewish News that included a photograph of a cake with a swastika encircled by the words “German fire department,” along with a cylinder bearing another swastika and the word “oven.” There are figures that look like they’re walking toward the oven.

Other photos showed firefighters giving Nazi-style salutes. They showed the firemen in a township ambulance, next to a truck in what looks like a firehouse, in front of and behind a ladder truck emblazoned with “Shawnee Fire Department,” and on the ladder itself. All the pictures feature that type of salute.

Way said the photos were “set up” by Platoon Chief John Norris, who also serves as the department’s public information officer.

Norris countered that Way was responsible for the pictures, staging them to “get under his shift officer’s nerves.” That shift officer at the time was Truesdale, now the fire chief.

In a telephone interview the evening of Sept. 9, Way said he and Fazeel Khan, his Columbus-based attorney, are looking into suing the Shawnee Township Board but haven’t yet decided whether to do so. Considerations include cost, Way’s distance from Ohio, and the fact that he does not belong to a class protected under EEOC regulations.

“The fact of the matter is I’m allowed to make those complaints, but that doesn’t mean necessarily I’m in a good position to pursue them because I’m not in a protected class,” Way said from Texas, where he moved three weeks ago for work at an oil refinery. A practicing Methodist, he’s not a member of a minority, he’s not disabled, and he’s not a believer in a religion that according to the EEOC is subject to discrimination. If he’d been Jewish, Way said, “I don’t think it would have even gone this far.

“I think that they probably would have settled that one very quickly. My strongest case is retaliation.”

The EEOC doesn’t have the funds to pursue every case it wants to,” Way added. “I think they were snubbed. I think that Shawnee Township didn’t really feel a threat. They ignored the request for a conciliation and did not agree to it.”

Khan could not be reached for comment.

According to Joseph Olivares, a public affairs spokesman for the EEOC in Washington, D.C., the agency received nearly 94,000 discrimination charges in fiscal 2013, which ran from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Of those, 3,071 came from Ohio. Olivares said the EEOC can file a lawsuit and can mediate, but “we don’t have any power to impose any punishment on any respondent in private, or state or local government.”

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