Clay Springs-Pinedale Fire District

CLAY SPRINGS-PINEDALE — Jason Craven, former coordinator of the now-defunct Wildland Division of the Clay Springs-Pinedale Fire District, (CPFD) has sued its district board, the members of the board, and its fire chief for various alleged violations of federal and state employment law, for defamation and other alleged wrongdoing.

The CPFD created the Wildland Division which targeted wildland-type fires with a crew and/or equipment that could contract to fight those types of fires in other areas. The CPFD board, based on information about the division’s performance, ended up dissolving the division and in March 2019, Fire Chief Robert Garvin notified Craven that he was terminated. Craven claims that for the last 14 years, he had worked as a volunteer firefighter there and was hired as a paid employee in 2013.

Craven brought suit in the Navajo County Superior Court on Dec. 9, 2019. He is represented by the law firm of Aiken Schenk Riccardi P.C. of Phoenix. The 10-count suit seeks damages for employment law violations, specifically under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Arizona’ s Minimum Wage Act, wrongful discharge, defamation, doing things “against public policy,” and other issues.

Board members were sued in their “official capacity,” meaning they are not alleged to have done anything that would affect them as individuals, but Craven sued Chief Garvin both in his official capacity and as an individual.

The defendants immediately had the case transferred to the U.S. District Court for Arizona through a proceeding known as “removal.” Federal law says that if a lawsuit suit contains “issues and claims arising under federal law,” and the amount in question is at least $75,000, federal courts can remove it from state court and can hear it.

It is curious that the defendants allege that the suit seeks more than $75,000 — the complaint itself doesn’t list a specific amount Craven wants, instead pledging that the amount will be “determined at trial.” The suit seeks compensation for wages lost, damage to Craven’s reputation, emotional distress, punitive damages and Craven’s attorneys’ fees, among others things. Punitive damages, as its name implies, are meant to punish a “tortfeasor” for their actions, apart from the actual dollar amount their actions allegedly cost a plaintiff.

The case was indeed removed to the US District Court in Phoenix, and defendants filed their answer on January 15, 2020. They are represented by the law firm of Barrett & Matura of Scottsdale. The defendants deny the claims and both sides have demanded a jury trial.

At the heart of the case is Craven’s allegations that he was mistreated and retaliated against because he voiced concerns over Chief Garvin’s management. Craven’s suit says that he “raised legitimate good faith concerns about Defendant Garvin’s gross mismanagement of District funds,” like allegedly not paying employees for work or for time spent on mandatory training, and hiring Garvin’s own brother.

Craven alleges that once Craven raised theses concerns with Garvin and a board member, they allegedly “treated him differently than other employees;” that Garvin didn’t tell Craven about a “meeting for the sizing of work boots,” kept information from Craven about certain tasks, called him “an alcoholic in front of 17 coworkers” and went around telling people that the Wildland Division failed because of Craven, and Craven’s personal business was failing, too, reads the complaint. Craven clams that Garvin gave the board “false and misleading information” about the Wildland Division’s financial picture so that the board would dissolve it, thus causing Craven to lose his job. Finally, Craven claims Garvin referred to Craven as “dishonest, deviant and incompetent in his work,” all of which is untrue, he says.

In their answer, the defendants deny everything, except that the CPFD is a fire district, has a board of directors and that Garvin is the fire chief. They ask the court to dismiss the complaint in its entirety, enter judgement in defendants’ favor, award to the defendants their costs and attorneys’ fees, and “other relief deemed appropriate by the Court.”

The next court date, a scheduling conference, is set for March 3.

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

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