Court documents in a lawsuit filed against the city of Conway and Conway Fire Department reflect one man’s struggle to be promoted in the fire service after a former co-worker, who now serves as chief, mentioned he was “defiant” in the past.
That description cost him a promotion, Larry Carter says in a second lawsuit against his former employer that alleges the department breached a settlement agreement that required he get a “neutral employment reference.” But the city says Conway Fire Chief Le Hendrick wasn’t providing a reference when he told Carter’s new boss that CFD had trouble with him in the past.
Carter, a former 13-year veteran with CFD, sued the city and the department after he was terminated in 2012 when an “anonymous letter,” accusing him of racism and claiming malfeasance in the department, was sent to city council.
Carter was vying for a promotion to battalion chief that year, along with the department’s current chief, Le Hendrick, according to Hendrick’s deposition, in which he admitted editing the letter that was sent.
Carter was fired for “undermining supervisory authority within the Fire Department,” harassing a firefighter under his command and failing to “work harmoniously” with firefighters in the department, according to a termination letter filed with the court.
The city’s grievance committee voted to overturn Carter’s termination, but Conway City Council reversed that decision, according to court documents.
The lawsuit was settled in mediation in October, 2014. According to the agreement, Carter would drop any other claims against the department and city in exchange for a $28,000 settlement and a “neutral employment reference.”
Carter contends, in a new lawsuit, the neutral reference requirement was violated when Hendrick told former Surfside Beach Fire Department Chief Tony Fox - Carter’s boss in 2015 - that he was “defiant” during his employ with Conway.
Carter was pursuing a promotion to captain at SBFD at the time, but was rejected. Carter blames the loss of the promotion on a talk Hendrick had with Fox.
Hendrick admitted in a deposition that Fox had asked if his department had ever had any problems with Carter in the past and that Hendrick told him “there was a history there.”
Hendrick sent an email to Fox attaching the conduct policy used, in part, to terminate Carter on Feb. 11, 2015.
Two days later, Hendrick said Fox asked if Carter had ever been defiant in Conway and Hendrick said he had. Later that day, Carter was rejected on the promotion, according to court documents.
But Fox said he had already recommended another man for captain over Carter well before Hendrick said he told him about Carter’s past defiance. And he said his talk with Hendrick wasn’t about a job reference for Carter.
“I did not ask Phillip (Le) Hendrick for a job reference for Larry Carter related to the promotion,” Fox said in an affidavit before the court. “Nothing that Phillip Hendrick said had any influence on the promotion decision.”
“Even if Fox was asking for a reference regarding the promotion decision, the City did not promise a neutral promotion reference (in the settlement),” the city contends in court documents. “An employment reference does not also cover other inquiries regarding a former employee.”
Hendrick became Conway’s fire chief in December 2014 and said he was never told about the “neutral employment reference” requirement until the new lawsuit.
Conway also contends that Hendrick “did not even know that Carter was up for a promotion.”
The city is vying for a judge to decide the case. Carter is asking for the matter to be decided by a jury. The case has been continued until a later trial term.