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Ex-fire chief's lawsuit thrown out

A federal judge has dismissed an age-discrimination lawsuit filed against the city of Largo by its former fire chief, Dan Fries.

The judge announced his decision late Thursday, after three days of testimony. U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. found there was not enough evidence of discrimination or of retaliation against Fries for complaining to let the case go to the jury.

Fries filed the lawsuit last year, claiming he was fired by City Manager Steven Stanton in January 1997 for filing an age-discrimination complaint two weeks earlier. Fries sought back pay, damages and reinstatement as chief.

Matthew Fenton, an attorney for Fries, said Fries was disappointed with the ruling and was considering an appeal.

"At least he had his day in court," Fenton said.

Fries could not be reached for comment Friday.

City administrators say it was dissatisfaction with a number of Fries' management decisions, not his age, that led to the firing.

"The city manager lost confidence in Mr. Fries' abilities to effectively manage the department," Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert said. "It was a multitude of things."

At the time Fries filed the lawsuit, the city was investigating whether Fries appropriately disciplined a fire inspector who bought a used refrigerator for $1 from a store he had just inspected. The inspector got a written warning for engaging in an activity that created a conflict of interest with his duties.

Also, Schubert said, Fries sometimes sent fire units outside city limits without telling Stanton.

"The city's real gratified," Tom Gonzalez, the city's lead attorney in the case, said Friday. "The city manager and the fire chief were just philosophically so far apart that it could not work out. We never thought it was about age and retaliation. We're happy the court agreed."

The city had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit after Fries finished presenting his case. But the judge held off on ruling until he had heard the other side.

_ Staff writer Sharon Tubbs contributed to this report.