The recent Uvalde mass shooting that stole the lives of 21 people at Robb Elementary School has underscored the importance of acknowledging the high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that first responders face in such harrowing situations. In line with this reignited conversation, Attorney Alfonso Kennard Jr. of Kennard Law in Houston, Texas is currently representing two first responders – one peace officer and one paramedic – in separate PTSD-related employment discrimination cases. He is working with former-Deputy Sergeant Brent Cooley and senior paramedic Mike Gomez, who each say they have faced on-the-job discrimination related to PTSD symptoms that originated when they responded to different mass shootings.
Seeking Peace for a Peace Officer
On May 18th, 2018, then-Sgt. Brent Cooley was on the first team to respond to the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School that killed 10 innocent people. His courageous acts on that tragic day brought him rewards and decorations that highlighted his already impressive career. But medals and praise did nothing to address the terrible mental and emotional trauma he experienced from the unthinkable scene at Santa Fe High School.
According to the lawsuit that Attorney Kennard is handling, Cooley was never given a single mental health treatment or therapy session after responding to the mass shooting, even though he had to personally verify the dead inside the classrooms. By the end of 2019, Cooley’s PTSD symptoms worsened to the point that he was suffering from frequent flashbacks, hallucinations, and night terrors, which were soon followed by major depression and insomnia. In early 2020, he sought counseling and was diagnosed with PTSD, an on-the-job injury recognized by the Galveston County Sheriff's Department HR team.
A few months later, Cooley attended the two-year anniversary memorial to honor those who died in the Santa Fe High School shooting. The event was too much for him to bear, his PTSD was triggered, and he drank until he blacked out in a stupor. Reportedly, while he was heavily intoxicated, he taunted a co-worker with offensive words and gestures, but he has no real memory of it happening. As Attorney Kennard points out, binge drinking and belligerent behavior are both clear symptoms of PTSD and not a true reflection of who he is.
All the same, Cooley was still penalized for his actions on that night and the department recommended that he be fired. By filing for medical leave, citing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the termination should have been delayed, as with any other penalties. Yet school district that held his contract as a peace officer at the time still removed him from the contract, resulting in his demotion from lieutenant to deputy one.
Now, Cooley is suing the Texas City Independent School District for unjust retaliation that heavily impacted his income, career path, and reputation as a peace officer. Had his PTSD from responding to the mass shooting been taken more seriously and sooner by his employers, the circumstances that led to his penalization and demotion might have never happened. At the least, if his actions while heavily intoxicated were correctly acknowledged as PTSD symptoms, then any action taken against him should be considered discrimination. Attorney Kennard is helping him seek fair damages.
Helping a Paramedic & His Partner
Senior paramedic Mike Gomez was the first to respond to the First Baptist Church mass shooting in Sutherland Springs that took 25 lives and one unborn infant in 2017. He was already feeling many PTSD symptoms from his job even before arriving at the First Baptist Church, so the mass shooting was catastrophic to his mental health. The Uvalde mass shooting understandably made matters even worse for him, such as causing him to lash out at hospital staff the day of the mass shooting; he was at the hospital for a separate family emergency.
To help with his PTSD symptoms, which include severe depression, Gomez had a service dog until the dachshund passed away in 2020. He soon purchased a trained German Shepherd to be his next service animal but was blocked by Mico Volunteer Fire Department, his employer. Mico claimed that the German Shepherd was nothing more than a pet and would not be allowed to accompany him while he was working.
After his employer refused to budge on allowing his new service animal to join him, even after his ride-along partners said it would be more than acceptable, Gomez came to Attorney Kennard for help. Kennard Law is now pursuing a disability discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against Mico VFD.
For More Information About Discrimination Cases
You can learn more about the stories of Cooley and Gomez by reading these full news stories:
- “’Thrown to the Wolves’: PTSD in Focus as Ex-Deputy in Santa Fe School Shooting Sues County for Alleged Disability Discrimination” (Texas Lawyer)
- “’Most People Know What It Did to Me’: Uvalde Mass Shooting Triggers PTSD in Paramedic, Claim Alleges” (Texas Lawyer)
If you want more information about Kennard Law and our legal services for workers who face discrimination, retaliation, and other unlawful conduct in the workplace, then please feel free to contact us at any time. Attorney Kennard and his team are here to support workers across Texas.