Denver Fire captain demoted after creating 'hostile work environment,' using derogatory terms, documents say

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Posted at 4:23 PM, Jun 07, 2023

DENVER — A captain at the Denver Fire Department (DFD) was demoted last month after he regularly used vulgar, derogatory terms and created a hostile work environment, according to Denver Department of Public Safety (DPS) documents.

DFD then-Capt. Jason Norris violated multiple parts of the department's code of conduct by managing in an inconsiderate and unfair manner, using poor judgment, engaging in "intimidating, threatening, or hostile behaviors," lying to supervisors, using derogatory terms toward others, discriminate or harassing an employee based on their identity, according to an order of discipline Denver7 Investigates obtained from the Denver DPS on Wednesday,

The document is dated May 1, 2023.

Norris was demoted two steps from captain to firefighter first-grade.

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Norris has been with the DFD for 28 years and has one prior disciplinary action from 2002. He received a written reprimand in that case and this violation did not increase his discipline level.

The 2023 document reads that DFD Internal Affairs first received notification of a complaint about Norris from an employee, identified as Engineer A, on Jan. 11, 2023. According to the complaint, Engineer A reported that he felt he was being — and had been for a while — singled out and treated differently by Norris because he was Hispanic. He claimed Norris "frequently made inappropriate, questionable, and racist comments," the document reads.

Norris spoke about Engineer A with other co-workers as well. He was quoted as saying, "I'm not a racist, I hate everybody," which he later admitted to. If other employees didn't join in on the "hating," he would make fun of them, the document claims. He also used a derogatory word for a gay man to describe people he did not like.

When co-workers asked about the broken air conditioning in the firehouse, he replied, "If people don't like that, then f**k them, they can get out the door. I will be out back drinking my iced tea all afternoon and I don't care how hot it is," the document reads. He denied saying this, claiming he had actually said, "F*ck it, it's not going to be any hotter drinking iced tea in the back."

Norris was also accused of speaking "inappropriately" about Hitler and Nazis.

"Multiple members described Captain Norris's conversations as opinionated, go-too-far, elevated, attacking and inappropriate," it reads. "Multiple members said Norris's conduct has resulted in multiple members transferring out of Station 14 and many others requesting to leave."

Shifts were much more smooth and happy when he was not there, members reported.

The report reads he also targeted people outside the firehouse. He'd speak derogatorily of patients and call members of the public outside Station 14 "sh*theads" and "sh*t-tards," the document says. He also did not want to fix the firehouse's broken doorbell because he "did not want these (expletive) ringing the doorbell and bothering me anyway," it reads.

When Norris was interviewed about these claims, he denied speaking about slavery, the Holocaust or Hitler and said he "avoids political discussions in the firehouse," the document reads. He admitted to using the derogatory term for a gay man, but not in the firehouse and only in reference "to the British slang term for a cigarette."

When asked about fixing the firehouse doorbell, he said he responded to the complaint by saying, "That breaks my heart, I'll get right on it," according to the report. He denied making negative comments about patients.

The leader of an investigation into Norris issued an Equal Employment Opportunity Summary (EEO) and Opinion on Feb. 27, concluding that Norris had violated the Department of Safety EEO Policy and Prohibition of Harassment and Discrimination, according to the report. She also found that Norris appeared to target Engineer A not because of his race, but rather his differing political and military opinions.

As written in the DPS document, a "preponderance of evidence" was found, indicating that Norris violated rules and regulations when he:

  • Failed to conduct himself to reflect credit on the Department and the City of Denver by using derogatory and vulgar names to describe members of the community
  • Supervised in an ineffective and inconsiderate manner by using derogatory and vulgar terms to disparage members, which adversely impacted the morale at Fire Station 14 and resulted in members seeking transfers
  • Failed to conduct himself in a manner that created good order inside the Department by poking fun at members who didn't join in on the "hating" and negatively spoke about some members with other members
  • Failed to use good judgment when he brought up racial discussions, and when he repeatedly used vulgar, demeaning, and derogatory terms
  • Repeatedly engaged in demeaning, unprofessional, and belittling behavior that is detrimental to the Department by speaking negatively about a subordinate to other subordinates and regularly using derogatory terms
  • Engaged in intimidating and hostile behavior by encouraging "haters" amongst his crew and negatively commenting on those who did not identify as part of the group. Additionally, he addressed concerns of the members related to a broken doorbell and broken air conditioning with vulgarity and hostility
  • Created an uncomfortable and hostile work environment for his employees of all levels by his racial, political, biased, derogatory words and discussion

A pre-disciplinary hearing was held on April 5. Norris brought letters of support from other DFD members.
During the hearing, Norris "did not accept responsibility for his actions," according to the document. When he was asked to describe the role of a DFD captain, he listed administrative tasks but did not discuss leadership and responsibility for house morale, professionalism and decorum, according to the report.

Norris was expected to lead by example and his "misconduct failed to live up to those expectations and his rank is considered an aggravating factor," the document reads. In the investigation, it was also found that he made misleading statements or lied.

As a result, Norris was demoted two steps from the rank of captain to firefighter first-grade. The recommendation for termination, which was a result of violating the discrimination and harassment rules at DFD, was suspended for three years, pursuant to the terms in the order of discipline document. Norris agreed to the order.

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