San Bernardino Faces Second Age Discrimination Suit

The San Bernardino County Fire Department is facing its second age discrimination lawsuit by chief officers in the past 2 years. The suit filed last week by former Division Chief John Salvate, 50, and current Battalion Chief Michael Weis, 62, accuses the county and Fire Chief Mark Hartwig of systematically targeting older, senior employees.

The 86 page complaint was filed on April 23, 2014 in San Bernardino County Superior Court (who incidentally expects people to pay $43 to download a copy of it… GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!!!!).

The allegations are eerily similar to those made two years ago by former Division Chief George Corley, who was terminated two months after Chief Hartig was appointed. Chief Corley, now a Battalion Chief with the Running Springs Fire Department, sued for wrongful termination and age discrimination.

Attorney Sandra Noel represents Chiefs Salvate, Weis, and Corley, and was quoted by The Sun as saying “from my understanding and speaking with numerous individuals who were either victims or witnesses, that this was a concerted effort on the part of the county ”.

County spokesperson David Wert was quoted by the Daily Press as saying: “Chief Hartwig has placed a strong emphasis on increasing the level of service and professionalism within County Fire. Virtually everyone in County Fire has responded well to that challenge. Unfortunately, a few did not.”

I had hoped to be able to review a copy of the complaint before posting this story, but given the court’s ill-conceived revenue generation plan to charge $0.50 a page for a PDF of a public record, we will have to do without. Certainly if any folks in the San Bernardino area that have a copy can send it to me, we will get it posted ASAP.

The big reason I’d like to review the complaint is to get a better understanding of the allegations being made by the chiefs. The information circulating through the media makes it sound as if the complaint alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy between county officials and IAFF 935 to bring Chief Hartig in as chief three years ago, create openings to increase firefighter overtime opportunities, and facilitate promotions for certain union officials… all in exchange for concessions on salaries and benefits.

In response to the allegations, Wert was quoted as saying: “it borders on insanity. And their evidence?”   Stay tuned.

More on the story.


About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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