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Former fire chief facing discrimination, harassment lawsuits

A former Northern California fire chief is facing no less than three lawsuits by people who worked for him. The cases, which are scheduled to go to trial this summer, allege seriously inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment, bullying and age discrimination. Further, according to the suits, the former chief "shredded documents, leaked confidential information and lied to fire board members."

In response to the lawsuits, the fire board for Stanislaus Consolidated, an area that includes Modesto, began an investigation in 2012. As a result of that investigation, which took approximately a year to complete, the board suspended the chief without pay for two months and then demoted him to the position of battalion chief. Last February he was placed on a paid leave. He received approximately $75,000 between that time and his retirement last month.

Although some might see the fact that he was allowed to retire given his history of personnel issues as too lenient, the former chief isn't one of them. He has filed a lawsuit claiming that he was demoted and suspended without "due process," including the chance to appeal the action. He also contends that the demotion affects his retirement income.

While much of the activity of the fire board surrounding the former chief has been conducted behind closed doors and with documents sealed - with the exception of the lawsuits - it is known that the man who was officially promoted to chief in 2006 after a year of running the department had a troubled last few years on the job. In 2010, over 80 percent of the membership of the local firefighters' union gave him a "no confidence" vote, alleging that he had been unresponsive to their complaints.

This case shows that no matter what the allegations are facing an employee, the disciplinary actions against them or their eventual dismissal still need to be handled in a manner that follows the law and other employment regulations. If not, the employer could end up facing litigation not only from those who were harmed by an employee or manager, but by that person as well.

Source: Modesto Bee, "Court papers shed some light on the mysterious departure of Stanislaus Consolidated fire chief" Garth Stapley, Jan. 05, 2014

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