San Bruno Firefighter Claims Male Colleagues Harassed Him

A veteran San Bruno firefighter has filed suit against the City of San Bruno and four firefighters accusing them of creating a sexually hostile work environment dating back to 2010. Jon Priolo filed suit in San Mateo County Superior Court naming the city, Ben Minkin, Tyler Charles, Sean Berube and Chris De La Cruz as defendants.

Priolo, a 17 year veteran, claims the harassment became so unbearable he developed depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and hypertension. He also claims that once he complained, he was severely retaliated against.

According to the complaint

  • From 2010 through September of 2015, Ben Minkin, a San Bruno Firefighter, made numerous comments and jokes suggesting PLAINTIFF was homosexual, and despite PLAINTIFF telling him numerous times to stop, he continued.
  • The harassment progressed to the point when Minkin would expose his genitals to PLAINTIFF.
  • During the incidents of harassment, PRIOLO responded to Minkin with objection and demands that the harassment stops.
  • The DEFENDANTS were aware of the harassment and PLAINTIFF ’S objections, but failed to take actions to address this behavior.
  • From 2013 to 2014, PLAINTIFF almost every day working together Minkin made homosexual comments about PLAINTIFF.
  • Upon information and belief, on or around July, 4, 2013, Minkin was promoted to Acting Captain with SAN BRUNO.
  • In January 2015, Minkin, Acting Captain at the time, entered the alarm room where Brandon Colar, Holly Nelson, and PLAINTIFF were sitting.
  • After making a derogatory comment about homosexuals, Minkin said, “Jon, you know what I am talking about.”
  • In January 2015, PLAINTIFF filed a complaint with SAN BRUNO. In it, PLAINTIFF complained of ongoing harassment by Ben Minkin beginning in January of 2010.
  • On September 13, 2015, Minkin made a derogatory comment referring to male to male oral copulation, and assertively stated, “But you like that kind of thing Priolo, right.”
  • On October I, 2015, PLAINTIFF filed a formal complaint with the City of San Bruno with regard to the ongoing harassment by Minkin.
  • On December 17, 2015, PLAINTIFF was called by his Union President, Sean Berube, and told he would be working with Minkin.
  • PLAINTIFF told Battalion Chief Charlie Barringer that he would not work with Minkin due to the ongoing harassment.
  • When the Barringer refused to make a change in the schedule, PLAINTIFF informed him that he would not be at work the following day.
  • Chief Dave Downy called PLAINTIFF and asked if PLAINTIFF would give him a chance to work things out, and PLAINTIFF responded by informing Chief Downy that he had given Minkin five years to work things out, but nothing had been done to stop the harassment.
  • December 18, 2015, the following day, Battalion Chief Dave Cresta called PLAINTIFF and asked him to return to work. PLAINTIFF informed him that his blood pressure was out of control and that he would report the time as workers compensation leave.
  • Cresta then told PLAINTIFF that he was “going down a path” from which it would be hard to return to work.
  • An investigative report prepared by an external investigator for SAN BRUNO, dated January 25, 2016, clearly identifies that PRIOLO had been subject to many sexual harassment incidents from 2010 to January, 2015.
  • On February 3, 2016, SAN BRUNO issued a report that sustained PLAINTIFF’S allegations that Minkin engaged in harassing behavior toward PLAINTIFF in the form of periodic derogatory comments and exposing himself between 2010 and January 2015.
  • On March 3, 2016, PLAINTIFF filed a charge of sexual harassment with the EEOC.
  • On Feb 27, 2017, Battalion Chief Dave Cresta made inflammatory and derogatory comments directed at PRIOLO, fostering a hostile work environment.
  • On August 8, 2017, PLAINTIFF was harassed and intimidated by Tyler Charles, Sean Berube, and Chris De La Cruz who belittled PLAINTIFF and made multiple derogatory comments about him.
  • The incident almost ended in a physical altercation because both supervising Fire Captains on location encouraged the confrontation.
  • On September 10, 2017, PLAINTIFF filed a second charge of discrimination with the EEOC, claiming he suffered retaliation from Battalion Chief Dave Cresta, two interim Fire Captains, Tyler Charles and Sean Berube, and a fellow firefighter, Chris De La Cruz.
  • Upon information and belief, the continued harassing and retaliatory treatment stems from PLAINTIFF’S sexual harassment charge initiated at the EEOC on March 3, 2016. Since filing that charge, PRIOLO has been isolated, harassed, and exposed to a hostile work environment by fellow firefighters and supervising staff.
  • Additionally, the SAN BRUNO was well aware of the conduct taking place. PRIOLO reported all of the misconduct he was subjected to directly to his supervisors at SAN BRUNO with the expectation that management would address the situation and correct the inappropriate activities.
  • Command staff failed to take corrective actions necessary to ensure a work environment free from harassment and retaliation.

The complaint included two counts of sexual harassment and retaliation under state law. Here is a copy of the complaint: Priolo v San Bruno

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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