Lawsuit claims Marine fired for being 'disabled veteran' - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Lawsuit claims Marine fired for being 'disabled veteran'


A disabled veteran has filed suit against the ownership group of a Lexington County gym business after the Marine was fired nearly three months ago. The firing, the Marine claims, came after new management refused to allow him to make up missed time to attend Veterans Affairs appointments to treat a war injury.

Lexington County court filings show the reason that New life Fitness World terminated Jonathan Brown on July 31 was "disabled veteran." The reason was noted on Brown's "Employment Status Change" form attached to the lawsuit.

Brown worked as a manager at the gym's Charter Oak Road location in Lexington for nearly two years. Brown recently returned home after a deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Marine left the service after an eye injury prevented him from continuing on in the military. His injuries are to both eyes and he's receiving treatment from the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA hospital in Columbia on a near-weekly basis.

"The VA is just like the military. If you miss an appointment, you might not get another one to actually let them help you with your problem," Brown told WIS. Military doctors don't know what's causing the blurriness and shaking in both eyes, according to Brown.

Brown was a gunner on a Bradley vehicle in Iraq, firing a 25MM weapon known to the military as a 25 "Mike Mike." Brown isn't sure whether firing the weapon had anything to do with his disabling eye condition.

On July 30, Brown said he got called into the office by his new regional manager to talk about his VA doctor's appointments, "It was kind of a surprise. He came in and wanted to sit down with me after I turned in some medical work, saying I needed to go to the VA a few times. We sat in the office and he said he just had to let me go—for; it just wouldn't work out," Brown said.

Brown said his boss, Jonathan Moreno, told him the reason he had to fire him was because he was a disabled veteran and wouldn't allow any discussion of his decision. "His mind was made up by the time he was even walking into the building," Brown said.

Brown said he was willing to work nights and weekends in order to make up the lost time, but said Moreno wouldn't entertain the arrangement. It was something Brown was already doing after working an arrangement out with his previous manager, "I stayed a lot later. Usually I'm supposed to be done by seven. I wouldn't leave the gym until easily nine or 10 o'clock, just to make sure I had everything straightened up and ready to roll for the next day."

"I have not seen a case that is so spelled out in black and white and is so clear a violation of the law, and obviously they need an education," Brown's attorney James Smith said. Smith, an Iraqi War veteran himself, filed the lawsuit for Brown in September. Smith said employers are required to make "reasonable accommodations" for employees with disabilities and argues that Brown's willingness to make up lost time was fair to both sides. "Those are reasonable accommodations, which must be made by an employer and they just need to understand that. Apparently they don't," Smith said.

We went to Moreno, who works at Gold's Gym in Lexington after leaving New Life Fitness World a few weeks after he fired Brown, for his side of the story. Moreno calls the claim that he fired Brown because he's a "disabled veteran," "horse [expletive]." Moreno's signature is at the bottom of the form, approving Brown's firing, which is marked, "disabled veteran."

Moreno told WIS the reason he fired Brown was because of customer service complaints, the gym was not clean and that Brown was not meeting his sales goals. Moreno declined an on camera interview to explain his decision to fire Brown. Brown's final pay check shows the gym paid him $150 in bonuses for meeting production, sales and membership goals. Moreno referred us to his former bosses for comment.

We called Ciye Malcuit, the man both Moreno and Brown identified as the gym's owner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We have since learned that Malcuit is the general manager of the New Life Fitness World in Cedar Rapids.

He declined to comment on the case saying, "I was advised not to say anything."

The gym's attorney, Tobias Ward, sent WIS a response late Monday afternoon.

"New Life Fitness World is an enterprise whose owner proudly served alongside U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam," wrote Ward. "We have over 125 employees in Iowa and South Carolina, and we regularly and proudly employ and serve active duty military and veterans."

"Jonathan Brown was employed by New Life Fitness World," Ward continued. "The reason for his termination is hotly contested, and management vigorously disputes the reason for termination given by Jonathan Brown in his lawsuit."

"Out of respect for employee confidentiality, and to avoid prejudicing the judicial process, management will have no further comment," Ward concluded.

When Brown went to work for New Life Fitness World, he worked under Jody Parks, who was the general manager before Moreno took over. Parks told WIS that he'd worked out a plan that would allow Brown time to make his VA appointments, but would require him to make up his missed time. "He was able to basically come back in and make up the time that he had missed. It was fair on that level," Parks said.

Parks now manages a competing gym in Lexington. "He didn't come in and say, ‘Hey I did this, can I make it up?' It was something that was set up beforehand, so we kind of knew in advance," Parks said. Parks said the gym was aware of his war injuries when they hired Brown in November 2010. Brown was an essential part of the mix at the Lexington location, according to Parks, because of the large retired military membership there. "He was a great guy. Good employee," Parks said.

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.

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