KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Jewish man contends he was subjected to disparaging comments about his faith while working at the Grainger County Ambulance Service, including a suggestion he open a hot dog stand entitled “Anne’s Franks,” court records show.
Attorney Lyndsey L. Lee has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Grainger County Ambulance Service on behalf of Joshua Jenkins, a Loudon County resident of Jewish faith who worked for the agency for two years before he was fired in March 2016.
The lawsuit alleges Roger Ritchie, director of the ambulance service, and Jenkins’ direct supervisor, Patrick Donnelly, made disparaging remarks about his faith and fired him because he complained. The legal action details a few of those alleged encounters, including an incident in which Ritchie allegedly made light of Anne Frank, an iconic figure in the Jewish faith whose diary during the Nazi occupation was published after she died in a concentration camp in 1945.
“On or about September 12, 2015, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Ritchie were in Mr. Ritchie’s office when Mr. Ritchie commented that if he were not a paramedic, he would open a hot dog stand called ‘Anne’s Franks’ and proceeded to draw a mock logo that included the words: ‘Fire Roasted Anne’s Franks We Jew Hotdogs Since 1945.’”
The lawsuit also alleges Donnelly told Jenkins in January 2016 to “get off your lazy Jewish (expletive)” and handle Donnelly’s ambulance calls.
The ambulance service, via attorney Rhonda Bradshaw, denies discriminating against Jenkins, in an answer filed in response to the U.S. District Court lawsuit. The answer denied “as written” the claims about the hot dog stand commentary, which is legal language used to dispute not the verbiage but the context. Bradshaw flatly denied Donnelly’s alleged remark in the ambulance service’s answer.
Jenkins is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages as well back pay, various other related job loss expenses and punitive damages. The case is set for trial before U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer Dec. 4. So far, no settlement conferences have been held, according to the court docket.
Jenkins worked as a paramedic for the Grainger County Ambulance Service. His age is not listed in the lawsuit.
“Mr. Jenkins is of Jewish faith, a fact that at all times material was known by Mr. Ritchie and Mr. Jenkins’ supervisor, Patrick Donnelly,” the lawsuit stated.
Three months after Ritchie’s alleged “Anne’s Franks” comments, Jenkins “began seeing a mental health provider after experiencing suicidal ideations and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and major depression,” the lawsuit stated. He was prescribed an antidepressant and told Ritchie so, according to the lawsuit.
A month later Donnelly allegedly “stated to Mr. Jenkins that Mr. Jenkins needed to ‘get off [his] lazy Jewish ass’ and run Mr. Donnelly’s calls for him,” the lawsuit stated.
Jenkins complained to Ritchie about Donnelly’s remark, and, according to the lawsuit, Donnelly was reassigned to another shift and removed as Jenkins’ boss in January 2016.
“However, Mr. Donnelly continued making disparaging remarks about Mr. Jenkins and encouraging Mr. Ritchie to terminate Mr. Jenkins’ employment,” the lawsuit stated.
In February 2016, Ritchie sent Jenkins a series of text messages in which Ritchie said he was cutting down on Jenkins’ responsibilities because he didn’t “want to load (Jenkins) up with stuff right now just in case,” the lawsuit stated. Ritchie also wrote, according to the lawsuit, that Jenkins’ “service has always been appreciated,” and Jenkins was Ritchie’s “go-to guy, more so than anyone else” and had been “a tremendous help.”
A week after Jenkins received those texts, the lawsuit alleges Ritchie sent him a text “informing him that he was being terminated and that his services were no longer needed.”
Jacquelyn Eagle, office manager for the ambulance service, later told Jenkins that Ritchie said Jenkins was being fired “due to his mental health and because they believed he was suicidal.”
His separation notice stated only that Jenkins’ “services (were) no longer needed.”
Jenkins contends his complaints about the alleged religious slurs was the real reason he was fired.
“During his employment, with knowledge of Mr. Jenkins faith, Mr. Ritchie and Mr. Donnelly made harassing comments to Mr. Jenkins regarding people of the Jewish faith and Mr. Jenkins specifically that a reasonable person would find offensive or derogatory and Mr. Jenkins did find offensive and derogatory,” attorney Lee wrote.
“Mr. Jenkins’ faith was the sole, or a substantial motivating, factor in Defendants’ decision to terminate Mr. Jenkins’ employment,” the lawsuit stated.
Bradshaw denied that on behalf of the ambulance service.
“These Defendants admit that upon information and belief Mr. Jenkins is of the Jewish faith but would deny any action by them that would constitute a violation of any civil rights act, or human rights act under the statute,” she wrote.