California City Pays $3.7 Million To Settle Suit With Firefighters

A lawsuit filed in 2013 by a firefighters’ union that accused the fire chief, the city manager, the mayor and city councilmembers with “ongoing retaliation, harassment, and discrimination” has been settled for $3.7 million.

The Downey Firemen’s Association, IAFF Local 3473, accused Fire Chief Lonnie Croom and city officials of retaliating against 14 named members and violating their 1st Amendment rights following the association’s unanimous vote of no confidence in the chief on June 5, 2013. At the time the city was considering contracting and/or merging with the Los Angeles County Fire Department

Chief Croom, who left the department in 2014, supported leaving Downey’s fire department separate from LA County while the firefighters supported the merger. Besides the $3.7 million payment, the city agreed to reinstate two firefighters, Jeff Simmons and Jose Garcia, to paramedic status, and withdraw disciplinary actions taken against seven other members, Dan Rasmussen, Steven Davis, Ryan Schleiger, Kevin Kim, Frank Culhno, Shawn Youngblood, and Scott Devereux.

According to Local 3473’s attorney, Thomas M. Brown:

  • “The settlement of the lawsuit for $3.7 million, the reinstatement of two firefighters to paramedic status with full pay, and the removal of all disciplinary files resulting from the retaliation against Association members is a tremendous vindication for our clients, who were the victims of a series of politically charged and vindictive actions by Downey and its officials.”
  • “The City violated my clients’ constitutional rights by retaliating against them for their speech, by denying them promotions to Battalion Chief, Captain, and Engineer, investigating and disciplining them for spurious allegations of misconduct, and holding up negotiations on their collective bargaining agreement.”

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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