HomeCivil RightsMelbourne Fire Battalion Chief under fire for antisemitism, discrimination, and retaliation complaints

Melbourne Fire Battalion Chief under fire for antisemitism, discrimination, and retaliation complaints

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18-year Melbourne Fire Fighter Aaron Starkey has filed an Employment Discrimination complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations against his employer.

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In the April 12, 2023 complaint, Aaron, who is Jewish states that he believes the cause of the discrimination against him is based on his race and his religion. It is not the first complaint he has filed, which he says stems from years of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation from his department.

Aaron Starkey (Facebook photo)

Aaron began working the with Melbourne Fire in 2005 and was promoted to Driver Engineer (DE) in 2015.

In October of 2018, he filed a detailed complaint with human resources regarding the department’s refusal to afford him reasonable accomodation and leave to care for his two children who suffer from physical disabilities. The complaint claims it was a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Then in 2020, he filed a Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour complaint, claiming unpaid work hours, refusal to pay for required training, and refusal to pay for course costs.

As a result of his complaints, he states he was transferred to various stations at least 4 separate times.

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In 2020, Aaron applied for promotion to Training Captain, but says he was passed over because of his previous complaints which were “protected activity.” During the selection process (which is recorded) the selecting officials referred to him as “Aaron-sue-the-department-Starkey,” a recording which he states that he has according to the complaint. He states that his supervisor, Battalion Chief Jodi Kahler was present at that meeting, and the current Union President, Ryan Young, was selected to the position instead.

In September 2021 during COVID, Aaron says the the department refused to reimburse him for COVID leave because of his prior EEO and DOL complaints.

Aaron points out in the complaint that his supervisor, Chief Kahler, recently posed as a Nazi performing the Nazi salute while wearing a Hitler-style mustache and German combat helmet, while on duty, and while wearing a Melbourne Fire Department uniform.

Melbourne Fire Department Battalion Chief Jody Kahler

As a Jew, Aaron says he found Kahler’s gesture extremely offensive. On November 21, 2022 he says he complained about the incident to his Union President, Ryan Young. He says that Young stated he would file a grievance and take it to counsel, however, never did anything.

Aaron believes that Young told Chief Kahler that he had complained to the Union about his Hitler photo and Kahler confronted him about in on April 8, 2023. He states that Chief Kahler tried to dissuade him from raising any further complaints about his actions which he found even more offensive. He claims that Kahler admitted that he posed as a Nazi, but tried to downplay and trivialize his actions, but he never apologized for them.

Melbourne Fire Union President Ryan Young (Facebook photo)

Aaron closes his complaint stating that he believes the department has unlawfully discriminated and retaliated against him because of his request for reasonable accommodation, his protected EEO and DOL complaints, and because he is Jewish. He believes the department and union have both failed to address his complaints of antisemitism and allowed Chief Kahler to retaliate against for raising the complaints of antisemitism.

We reached out to both Kahler and Young. Kahler has not responded to request for comment. Young states that he will provide further comment tomorrow. This story will be updated if and when they do respond.

UPDATE: Statement from the union.

The Union is aware of the complaint. We are representing this member within the confines of our duty of fair representation and because Mr. Starkey has elected to file an EEOC charge, rather than a grievance, we will not be commenting any further on this matter until after the investigation has concluded.

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