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Southern California firefighters file age discrimination suit

Past and present high-ranking firefighters are charging San Bernardino County with age discrimination. The suit, filed on April 24, accuses the local fire department of pushing out older, higher-paid senior firefighters. This is the second age discrimination suit involving San Bernardino County firefighters in less than two years.

The issue, the suit claims, began three years ago. In April of 2011, the local firefighters union agreed to take salary and benefit cuts. However, the agreement with the county stipulated that 18 firefighter spots would go unfilled so that employees could pick up extra overtime work.

Just days after that agreement was reached, a new fire chief was appointed. The suit alleges that the new chief as well as a union vice president were placed on the fast track in the department in exchange for the systematic removal of senior firefighters.

A division chief who filed a wrongful termination and age discrimination suit shortly after the new chief was installed says he believes that the cuts were made to "reduce salaries and pensions and bring the younger folks in." The now-60-year-old man is working for the Running Springs Fire Department as a battalion chief. The attorney who represented him and now represents two plaintiffs in the current suit says that based on the information she has gathered, "this was a concerted effort on the part of the county."

A spokesman for the county has denied the allegation that the fire chief's appointment was made "in exchange for anything." He also denied that the county chief executive officer "would agree to something that would lead the way to unlimited overtime." He says the allegation "borders on insanity."

For an individual, wrongful termination based on age discrimination can sometimes be challenging to prove. Employers can claim that an action was based on any number of legitimate reasons. However, when there seems to be a pattern of phasing out older, highly-paid workers in exchange for younger, lower-paid ones, plaintiffs may have an advantage in banding together in a civil action. When multiple people have similar stories to tell, that can have a powerful effect on a judge and/or jury.

Source: San Bernadino County Sun, "Firefighters allege age discrimination in lawsuit" Joe Nelson, Apr. 29, 2014

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