SEBRING — A paramedic supervisor who was fired by Highlands County Emergency Medical Services will have a new hearing, the Reemployment Assistance Appeals Commission decided on May 29.
Troy Granata announced that result at Tuesday’s Highlands County commission meeting.
“I received a notice on my unemployment hearing just the other day,” said Granata, who was fired in 2013 after testing positive for a weight-loss drug. The results of the test were reversed after he proved his doctor had prescribed the drug.
Highlands County offered his job back, but Granata insisted on six conditions, including lost wages and benefits, attorney fees, and an apology, purging the incident from his personnel file, a promise that the county would not retaliate, and compensation for harm to his reputation.
The county refused, and after Granata did not report for work, declared that he had abandoned his job.
Granata told commissioners that the RAAC “made the determination that I was wrongfully terminated, that Hihglands County terminated me against the law, that this was an attempted coverup that was exposed, and they agreed and made the determination that I was not terminated for a good cause. So I would like you to reconsider the stand you’ve taken.”
“Did you get that?” commission chairman Greg Harris asked County Administrator June Fisher.
“We did receive a notice, and that has been forwarded to our labor attorney,” Fisher replied.
“Keep us in the loop,” Harris ordered. “Please.”
“We just received this yesterday,” Fisher said.
The five-page RAAC report recited the facts of the case. “That because of the Florida Sunshine Statute, the employer could not destroy any documents and did not possess the drug test results, but would follow (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) statutes in dealing with any requests for the tests; and finally that they would not pay the claimant’s attorney’s fees, or state that it had violated any laws in terminating the claimant, as the employer followed policy in both the initial termination and the reinstatement. The claimant was dissatisfied with the employer’s response and did not return to work.”
Based on those facts, the RAAC said, a referee held that Granata was discharged for work-related misconduct.
However, the RAAC order continued, “Upon review of the record and the arguments on appeal, the Commission concludes the referee’s decision is not supported by competent and substantial evidence and, therefore, is not in accord with the law; accordingly, it is reversed in part.”
“Since the claimant was discharged on July 18, 2013, he cannot be considered absent from work,” the RACC ruled.
Florida law gave Granata five days to submit information after receiving a positive drug test in 2013, the RACC said. “The record reflects the employer did not provide the claimant five days... Accordingly, the record reflects the employer discharged the claimant...”
By the time Granata offered proof, the RAAC said, “the claimant was already discharged... for reasons other than misconduct.”
Since Highlands County later offered to reinstate Granata, “the second issue in this case then becomes whether the claimant refused an offer of suitable work...”
“It would not agree to pay the attorney’s fees the claimant incurred in contesting his unlawful discharge,” the RAAC order said. “It was not unreasonable for the claimant to expect the employer to compensate him... while several of the demands the claimant made would not have been reasonable...”
Because Granata cancelled his grievance hearing, the RACC concluded, “it is unknown whether the hearing could have resulted in an award of attorneys’ fees along with reinstatement. The case, therefore, is remanded for the referee to conduct an additional hearing.”
County public information officer Gloria Rybinski said Thursday the county intends to appeal the RAAC’s decision. “As of today, we have not received a hearing date.”
However, she noted, this is an unemployment hearing to determine if he qualifies for unemployment benefits or not. It has nothing to do with getting his job back.”