ROSEWOOD HEIGHTS – A volunteer firefighter's lawsuit claims his former employer terminated his employment because his life-saving efforts during a fire made him late for work.
Justin Wilkinson, of Rosewood Heights, filed a complaint Feb. 6 in Madison County Circuit Court against HWRT Oil Co. LLC in Hartford and its owner, Matthew Schrimpf.
In the lawsuit, Wilkinson said HWRT fired him Jan. 31 for coming into work an hour and 12 minutes late on Jan. 30 after he helped save two lives in a Rosewood Heights fire the morning of Jan. 30.
Wilkinson has been a volunteer firefighter with the Rosewood Heights Fire Department for the last 11 years – a position protected by the Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act.
“Not only did I risk my life that day, I risked my job,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson, who worked for HWRT as a fuel terminal operator for 1 1/2 years, said in the lawsuit his employer knew he was a volunteer firefighter.
HWRT Oil Company officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Fire Chief Tim Bunt said Wilkinson's situation is unprecedented in Bunt's seven years in the fire department.
“This is something that no one in my department has gone through,” Bunt said. “I have been fire chief for seven years and I’ve never seen it where somebody gets terminated for coming in late.”
ORDER OF EVENTS
According to the lawsuit, Wilkinson was called to assist the Rosewood Heights Fire Department with a severe house fire in East Alton the morning of Thursday, Jan. 30. “At approximately 7:21 a.m. on Jan. 30, 2014, the plaintiff called his superior and/or boss … to let him know that he was in the middle of fighting a fire,” the lawsuit states. “(Wilkinson’s boss) informed the plaintiff that he could take a vacation day or come into work late.”
“At approximately 7:40 a.m. the plaintiff texted his superior and/or boss … to inform him that he would be taking a vacation day,” the lawsuit continues. “At approximately 8:49 a.m., the plaintiff called (his boss) to tell him that he would be into work as soon as possible.”
Wilkinson, according to the complaint, clocked in to work at 9:12 a.m. on Jan. 30.
Chris Donohoo, of The Donohoo Law Firm P.C. in East Alton, who is representing Wilkinson in the complaint, said Wilkinson was scheduled off from work on Friday, Jan. 31. He said HWRT called Wilkinson at about noon and allegedly fired him because he showed up late the day prior.
HWRT Oil Company officials have 30 days to file an answer to the complaint or a motion to dismiss, Donohoo said.
Wilkinson is seeking more than $50,000 due to “lost wages, past and future; loss of fringe benefits, past and future; sustained emotional distress and anxiety; costs associated with securing and attempting to secure subsequent employment; and from suffering humiliation and distress.”
Bunt said he does not understand why Wilkinson has to go through such an ordeal.
“He’s very active in the community and very active in the (fire) department, and he doesn’t get paid a penny for it,” he said.