Knoxville Fire Chief resigns under accusations of discrimination

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After months of accusations regarding age and sex discrimination along with lawsuits charging civil rights violations, Knoxville’s Fire Chief Carlos Perez resigned in March, leaving the post open for Knoxville’s newly-appointed Chief Robert Key.

Key was serving as the Assistant Fire Chief at the time of his appointment.

“O&AN” readers may recall one complaint involving transgender firefighter Jamie Faucon who serves as quality control officer for the organization. Faucon filed a grievance based on harrassment and discrimination that named Perez and her supervisor, Mark Foulks, as defendents. As a longtime employee of the Knoxville Fire Department (KFD), Faucon maintained that her office was moved to deliberately hinder her abilities to perform her duties with regard to stocking emergency-related supplies at various fire stations. Faucon’s office was moved to a location distant from the supplies in an effort to create a more stressful work environment, according to the plaintiff.

Faucon also cited loss of on-call pay and drive-home vehicle in her formal grievance. Since then, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam has reinstated all such vehicles for regular use according to regulations in place prior to changes made by Perez.

 “I filed the grievance based on harassment, discrimination, loss of on-call pay, and removal of my authorized vehicle,” states Faucon. “The drive-home car was approved by the Mayor.”

Perez came to Knoxville in November 2004 with more than 25 years experience as a firefighter. His career began in the Miami-Dade Fire Department where he served until retirement. His most recent employment before coming to Knoxville was with the DeKalb County Fire Rescue. Despite endorsements from area politicians and political aspirants, Perez’s tenure also saw complaints arising from charges of age discrimination. Veteran firefighter Paul Dunn spoke out in a meeting, opposing Perez publicly regarding testing given to firefighters. Subsequently, Dunn was relocated and filed grievances based on not only age discrimination, but also civil rights violations regarding free speech.

Perez then tendered his resignation on March 3, sparking the search for a new fire chief for the City. Two months later, Mayor Bill Haslam appointed Robert Key to the post.

“Chief Key’s leadership abilities and his depth of experience make him the right person for this job,” Mayor Haslam stated. "I trust in his commitment to the citizens of Knoxville and the men and women of the Fire Department.”

Joining the Department in 1978, the 58-year-old Keys rose up through the ranks. His career has included stints as senior firefighter, master firefighter, and fire officer, and in 1998 he was named assistant chief.

“I am honored to be able to serve the Fire Department that I have been a part of for 30 years,” Key said. “I pledge to the citizens of Knoxville and the men and women who serve within the department to dedicate myself to making them proud that I am their chief.”

The Fulton High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran lives in Knoxville with his wife, Julie. They have three grown children.