An Horry County Fire Rescue lieutenant lost his job last year after running in a county-sponsored 5K, according to a lawsuit filed this week.
Russell Brent Norman filed the suit against the county in the Horry County Court of Common Pleas on Monday.
The lawsuit states Norman was injured on the job in the spring of 2018 and was terminated a few weeks later.
The firefighter was told his dismissal stemmed from him exceeding work restrictions by participating in the race, according to court documents.
The suit argues the “basis for termination is false” and he was not restricted from competing.
The lawsuit contends Norman was terminated because his submission of a workers’ compensation claim, “his disabilities and his request for time off to treat his disabilities.”
According to the filing, Norman was hired as a heavy equipment operator in the county’s public works department on April 23, 2001. He transferred to HCFR on Oct. 1, 2005 as a firefighter/EMT.
Norman received positive performance evaluations throughout his tenure and was promoted to lieutenant by the county on Feb. 8, 2018, the suit said.
On April 6, 2018, he suffered a workplace injury at a fire call, according to court records.
Norman submitted workers' compensation paperwork to his employer and was soon placed on light duty restrictions.
Norman “was released to light dirty work with medical restrictions on April 13, 2018,” the lawsuit said.
The restrictions said “no running,” according to the complaint.
“Plaintiff received new restriction on April 23, 2018 and was diagnosed with a torn ACL and lateral and medial meniscus tears,” the lawsuit reads.
Norman asked his doctor if he could begin running again and was told he could engage in any physical activity that he could handle.
His work restrictions on April 23 cleared the HCFR lieutenant to work light duty without the “no running” restriction, according to the suit.
Horry County denied his workers’ compensation claim on April 27, 2018, arguing his injuries were because of the internal mechanical breakdown of component muscle and tissues from a prior surgery.
Based on his doctor’s approval, Norman started working out again after his April 23 appointment.
He decided he felt physically able to compete in a county-sponsored 5K marathon on April 29, 2018.
That’s the date of the first annual International Drive Road Race. The event featured a 5K, 10K, and fun run and was sponsored by the county’s wellness committee.
“Plaintiff’s participation in the 5K was on his own personal time, and it did not violate his work restrictions since his most recent work restrictions removed the ‘no running’directive,” the filing said.
Norman jogged in the 5K and didn’t engage in anymore physical activity than he could handle, the lawsuit said.
He filed a formal contested workers' compensation claim for his workplace injury on May 2, 2018, and was out of work from May 4-7 for a hernia repair surgery.
He was terminated May 8, 2018, via Assistant Chief James Walker “on the stated basis that he had exceeded his work restrictions when he ran in the 5k,” the suit said.
The suit said Norman did not receive any disciplinary actions between his promotion day and his firing date.
Norman is seeking damages.
He has requested the court grant him all other equitable relief it deems just and necessary including backpay, interest on backpay, and front pay or reinstatement.
He is also seeking pre-judgment interest and attorney fees. Norman has requested a jury trial.
County spokeswoman Kelly Moore declined to discuss the case, saying the county typically doesn't comment on pending litigation.