TAMPA, Fla. — Lt. Jason Francis has worked for the St. Petersburg Fire Department for more than 16 years.
In January 2019, Francis was diagnosed with cancer.
According to Francis’ lawyer Robert McKee, the cancer is covered under a state law that provides benefits for firefighters diagnosed with certain forms of cancer.
However, because the law took effect in July, McKee claims the city said Francis is not entitled to the benefits.
Johnson and his union IAFF Local 747 filed a lawsuit in Pinellas County Circuit Court so he can receive the benefits.
McKee’s office said it will be the first lawsuit to test the coverage of the law.
The lawsuit says Francis was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, one of the types included in the law, about seven months ago. The lawsuit includes a letter sent to the City of St. Petersburg requesting the benefits under the new law.
The letter, dated July 1, 2019, requests out-of-pocket health care costs be reimbursed from his employer and paid leave time and job retention.
A reply from city Human Resources Director Christopher M. Guella says, "The City will not provide benefits to you unless and until it receives more definitive eligibility direction regarding your specific circumstances. The City is currently seeking a declaratory judgment from the courts and hopes to have further direction as soon as possible."
Benjamin Kirby, communications director with the St. Petersburg Mayor's office, sent this statement to 10News, saying Francis was diagnosed with cancer in May 2018:
It is the Legal Department’s, City Human Resource’s, and Administration’s position that Lt. Francis does not qualify for the benefit under the law. His cancer diagnosis occurred in May 2018. The law went into effect July 1, 2019. The language of the law is silent as to whether the benefit is retroactive and if so, for how long? Further, the language is vague overall and contradictory in spots. All the City seeks is for a court or the legislature to clarify the benefit. St. Petersburg is not the only entity in Florida facing this issue. Every municipality and fire district in the state is struggling with implementation. The Legal Department is currently taking action to get clarification from the courts but it may take some time before we get an answer.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis weighed in on Twitter, arguing St. Pete was "splitting hairs with a first responder's life."
State Representative Chris Latvala described the situation as "shameful."
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