Chula Vista Deputy Chief Awarded $1 Million in Discrimination Suit

A deputy chief who was fired in 2015 has been awarded $1 million by a jury for disability discrimination. Chula Vista Deputy Chief James Garcia was fired in 2015 hours after the department learned he needed surgery on his neck.

Chief Garcia sued for disability discrimination and age discrimination.

 

 

The city released the following statement:

Former City employee Jim Garcia was terminated from his at-will executive level Deputy Fire Chief position on January 14, 2015, after the prior Fire Chief retired, and a new Fire Chief was appointed. Garcia later filed a lawsuit alleging that he was terminated due to his age and/or neck injury, and, that the City did not investigate allegations of discrimination. The City has always contended that Garcia was legitimately, and appropriately, terminated from his at-will Deputy Fire Chief position by a newly appointed Fire Chief in the best interest of public safety and the City and Fire Department. This is because Garcia had been a member of the prior Fire Department management team which had subjected to a Vote of No Confidence supported by over 90% of the Fire Department and Local Firefighter’s Union. Further, Garcia had then been subjected to a National Censure by the International Association of Firefighter’s for having participated in decisions contrary to the safety and welfare of the City’s citizens and Firefighters, urging that Garcia not be hired by any fire department in the entire country. It was time for new and respected leadership in the CV Fire Department in the best interest of the department and citizens. At trial in January 2016, Garcia dropped his claim for failure to investigate discrimination. The jury also did not find that he was terminated because of his age. The jury found in Garcia’s favor for neck injury discrimination. The jury awarded Garcia about $450,000 in lost past and future wages, and about $650,000 in past and future emotional distress damages. The City is analyzing an anticipated appeal to exercise its legal rights to challenge the verdict and the excessive damages awards. In the meantime, the City and Fire Department will continue to provide services to its citizens without interruption or disruption.

I am assuming the reference to a January 2016 trial date in a typo.

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.
  • mr618

    The IAFF Convention 2014 website indicates the censure was withdrawn (http://iaffconvention2014.org/resolution-no-25/). There was no withdrawal date supplied, but if it had been withdrawn prior to the trial, would it still have been admissible?

    • CurtVarone

      To be admissible it would have to be relevant to a fact in issue. I am not sure how either the censure or its withdrawal would be relevant to the dismissal of an at will employee hours after he reported he needed neck surgery. If the decision to fire him was motivated by the censure, why did the city wait til surgery became an issue??? Coincidence??? Again… I don’t think either the censure or its withdrawal are relevant to the case.

      • mr618

        So the city probably mentioned it in their statement to try to make the Chief sound bad?

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