Ex-firefighter sues Bethlehem over firing, substance abuse — (The Patriot-News)

SSRI Ed note: Firefighter experiences work stress, takes Lexapro, Xanax, loses ability to get along and to cope, starts to abuse alcohol, is demoted. Sues.

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The Patriot-News

Posted by Kurt Bresswein May 16, 2008 13:56PM

A former Bethlehem firefighter today sued the city alleging a hostile work environment led to his inability to do his job, dependency on prescription drugs and alcohol abuse. 

Howard J. Aubrey, who joined the department in April 1980, says his problems began when now-Commissioner George Barkanic was promoted in January 2000 to assistant chief.

A year later, “due to the extreme and unpredictable conduct” of Barkanic, Aubrey claims he began suffering health problems including “extreme heartburn, shortness of breath, vomiting and extreme nervousness while at work” that spilled over into his private life, the suit alleges.

Aubrey was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in January 2003 and prescribed Lexapro and Xanax, according to the suit; two months later, Aubrey’s wife, Esther, noticed her husband’s increased withdrawal from their family and a sharp increase in alcohol consumption.

“Due to the actions and inaction of Bethlehem Fire Department officials from January of 2001 to present, Aubrey was forced to work in an employment atmosphere so intense, hostile, stressful and intolerable that he suffered anxiety, depression and extreme psychological stressors which ultimately resulted in dependency on drugs and alcohol and ultimately a complete breakdown,” the suit reads.

Aubrey is seeking more than $150,000 in damages with interest from the date of the suit’s filing in Northampton County Court in addition to claiming rights to the loss of back and future wages.

Assistant City Solicitor Joseph Kelly said he had not seen the suit and could not comment. Barkanic deferred comment to Kelly.