Board Upholds Fire Captain's Firing Over Covid Mask Refusal

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — A civil service board in Louisiana has upheld a decision to fire a fire department captain for insubordination after he repeatedly refused orders to wear a COVID-19 mask at a training session last year.

The Lafayette Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board agreed unanimously Wednesday that the fire chief had good reasons to fire Kevin Larriviere and acted in good faith, news agencies reported.

Chief Robert Benoit said the longtime employee had violated 11 policies, including one against insubordination, when he refused to wear a mask to get into a time entry training session on Aug. 10, 2021, The Advocate reported.

At the time, a statewide mask mandate was still in place. It was lifted in October 2021.

Under its rules, Larriviere could have taken off the mask once he was seated at the training session, officials said.

“If you can’t do what we ask you to do in a normal environment, how are we going to expect you to do something when everything is falling apart?” Benoit said.

Larriviere had worked for the department for more than 20 years, The Advertiser reported. He was fired Aug. 27, 2021.

Attorney Daniel Landry said Larriviere’s superiors should have considered underlying factors such as stress and anxiety.

Those issues were not fully raised during earlier hearings, said Michael Corry, representing the fire department and city-parish.

Larriviere testified he was sad, angry and frustrated for a number of reasons on Aug. 10, including home life and the death of a car crash victim he had helped two days earlier. He had to go to a hospital twice in previous months because of anxiety attacks that seemed like heart attacks, he said.

He told his superiors he was refusing to wear the mask on religious and medical grounds, without giving any details.