Atheist and former fireman Jeffrey Queen, above, has been told that a lawsuit he brought against the Bowling Green Fire Department in Kentucky can proceed.
Queen worked for the fire department from 2011 to 2016, during which time he claims his colleagues attacked his atheism, made racist, sexist and homophobic remarks – and even burned a copy of the Koran.
Queen filed a lawsuit in US District Court against the city and BGFD Captain Dustin Rockrohr in 2016 alleging that he was subject to a hostile work environment.
Here, via The Friendly Atheist, is a list of just some of the things that allegedly went on in the department.
• Assistant Chief of Training Norman Simpson referred to non-Christians as “pagans.”
• Chief Jason Colson told Queen he needed to join a church.
• Chief Paul Campbell told Queen to “get right with Jesus.”
• Captain Todd Barnard said atheists “deserved to burn.”
• Chief Donnie Frye said, “I’ll be damned if I work with [atheists],” and he was “sure as hell glad none of those fuckers work here.”
• Queen says he was “forced” to participate in bible study during dinner at the fire station.
• After he admitted to being an atheist, Captain Eric Smith and another firefighter said they would “burn his house down.”
• Queen says he was called “faggot” almost every day. Others called him a “queer.” (Queen is straight and married to a woman, for what it’s worth.)
• Queen witnessed colleagues saying they wouldn’t touch gay people because they “probably had AIDS.”
• Queen was told, “If a homo works here, we’ll make sure he dies in a fire. We’ll chop his feet off.”
• Queen said some of the firefighters refused to help a man with chest pain after learning he was gay.
• He witnessed members of the Fire Department refer to African Americans as “hoodrats,” “thugs” and “n—–.”
• He witnessed members of the Fire Department refer to Muslims as “towelheads,” “jihadis,” “ali-babas,” and “ sand n—–.”
• He heard those same people say of Muslims, “we need to ship them all back where they came from” and “let the bombs torch them, they are going to hell anyway.”
• One of his colleagues burned a copy of the Qur’an in front of the Fire Department while saying “burn them all.”Attorneys for the city and Rockrohr filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that Queen is not entitled to relief through the court system and that Queen cannot prove he suffered unwanted religious harassment. They said:
The jokes, pranks and teasing are all part of the fraternal environment at the fire department that Queen enjoyed and participated in.
The judge said:
A reasonable jury could find that the harassment and threats were in retaliation for his complaints regarding the workplace. According to Queen, his work environment got so bad that he had to take a medical leave of absence and eventually forced him to resign.
McKinley ruled that Rockrohr could not be held individually liable on the hostile work environment claim, but may be held liable on the retaliation claim, stating that a jury could possibly find that Rockrohr did not act in good faith in handling Queen’s complaints.
A claim that Queen was subjected to a hostile work environment based on his sexuality was dismissed.
In a comprehensive February 2017 report of the case, it’s revealed that Queen made several attempts to report the inappropriate behaviour to captains, the fire department’s human resources and the city’s ethics hotline, all which were ignored or met with defensive behaviour. Worried for his safety, Queen said he complained to Rockrohr, who told Queen that he needed to:
Get with the program if you want to continue being a firefighter.
In one incident he was physically assaulted by a commanding officer. He was also told that any atheist or gay firefighter would be killed.
After Queen’s complaints, Queen said his work environment became even more hostile and included threats to him and his family. Queen’s sister-in-law Alayna Milby said:
They made threats to Jeff, to Jami and the kids including sexual assault towards Jami.
Queen, with his spouse Jami, is now raising two young daughters without religion.