A contentious legal proceeding in state court involving the Florida Highway Patrol and a member of the U.S. Navy Reserves has taken an unusual turn.
Federal law prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based on his or her membership in the United States military. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) was passed by the Congress to protect members of our armed forces from discriminatory acts.
Attorneys for former Highway Patrolman Robin Eric Barr, who has served in the U.S. Navy for three decades, claim he was terminated by the Florida Highway Patrol for conducting military funerals during military leave from the department. His abrupt termination came on the heels of Barr’s testimony to agency attorneys regarding another case of military discrimination by the FHP.
Barr is seeking reinstatement with the FHP as well as lost wages and benefits. The State refuses to settle the case.
However, this past week, after Barr’s legal team filed affidavits with the court from FHP employees who had personal knowledge of the discriminatory conduct committed against Barr, lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office representing FHP filed a motion to disallow the affidavits.
The FHP attorneys, citing the Florida Rule for Professional Conduct, argued that Barr was prohibited from discussing his case with employees of the FHP without the consent of the state.
Barr’s attorneys disagree, in a response have argued that the Florida Rule for Professional Conduct is not being interpreted correctly.
The issue before the court in the motion to strike is whether all state employees are “represented persons” whenever the state faces litigation. If those individuals are deemed represented, an opposing counsel could only discuss a case with them after receiving consent of and in the presence of the state’s lawyers.
Barr argues state employees are “unrepresented persons” who may speak freely with whomever they wish.
The case is Robin Eric Barr v. State of Florida, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and Judge Hobbs is scheduled to hear testimony on dueling motions for summary judgment as well as the State’s motion to strike the affidavits.
Assuming neither side prevails in their respective motions for summary judgment, the case will go to trial before Judge Hobbs in Gadsden County on March 16-17, 2017.