LAFD Sued by Former Firefighter Over Hazing and Harassment

A former probationary firefighter with the Los Angeles City Fire Department who claims he was hazed and harassed by fellow firefighters to the point of seeking help from a psychologist, has filed suit claiming disability discrimination and retaliation. Daniel Eble filed suit yesterday in Los Angeles County Superior Court citing five state law employment violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Eble served as a firefighter in the Running Springs Fire Department and as an EMT for Cole Schaefer Ambulance prior to being hired by the LAFD. He graduated from the fire academy on January 4, 2018. His problems began at his second probationary assignment at Station 33, designated in the complaint as “FS33s.” As explained in the complaint:

  • Plaintiff’s first probationary station was FS84s. After FS84s, Plaintiff was assigned to FS33s.
  • Immediately upon Plaintiff’s arrival at 33s he was the subject of hazing. Plaintiff became nervous from the stress of the incessant hazing from fellow members of 33s threatening him that he needed to perform well on testing or he would be subject to further harassment and negative behavior.
  • Typical new guy harassment ensued where people made a point of making it clear that claimant was new with questions like, “hey are you the new guy, did you stop at the beach on your way here?…” or when two firefighters walked past him in the middle of a conversation, they circled back stating “hey when you go to a station and someone walks past you introduce yourself you piece of shit fucking rookie!”
  • Plaintiff was asked “[d]o you have thick or thin skin?” And when Plaintiff responded “thick” the firefighter replied “that’s a no… you will prob CTS me for saying fuck won’t you?”
  •  A CTS is a reference to an internal complaint made and then inputted into the “Complaint Tracking System” used by the LAFD.
  • When Plaintiff replied no, the response was “yea right.. we can tell you have thin skin; you will not make it here at 33s, especially coming from a junk station like 84s.”
  • By July 2018, Claimant began meeting with the LAFD psychologist.
  • He indicated to the psychologist that he was having trouble sleeping and was being harassed at work and that he dreaded going to work due to the harassment.
  • He also recounted how he is getting treated like this every day and everyone was telling him he should quit.
  • He was worried that if he was trapped in a burning building no one would come and save him.
  • After this meeting, without Plaintiff’s knowledge the LAFD psychologist entered a CTS complaint relative to FS33s based on the confidential conversation.
  • Plaintiff was then notified that he was being moved to FS15s from 33s so that he did not receive further harassment.
  • Plaintiff also began taking medication for depression as a result of the treatment he was encountering at work.
  • Plaintiff began seeing a therapist to cope with the situation.
  • On August 20, 2018, Plaintiff was assigned to work at FS37s which was significantly further away from his house.
  • He was asked on that first day, “you’re the 33s guy, are you going to get us investigated as well?” meaning Plaintiff’s complaint had been disclosed and was being bantered about throughout the department.
  • He was both stigmatized, harassed, and chastised behind his back based on the statements that were being made to him.

The final incident occurred on September 25, 2018 when Eble was sent for a drug test, and then sent home. As explained in the complaint:

  • In early September, Claimant was out sick a few days with a doctor’s note.
  • On September 14, 2018, he arrived late to the station because of his lack of sleep.
  • The next day, on September 15, 2018, Plaintiff was agreed to take an overtime shift by the crew because they did not have anyone to come in.
  • Then, from September 20, 2018 to September 23, 2018 plaintiff was out sick again.
  • On September 23, 2018, Plaintiff was called and told that he needed to return to work sick or not.
  • Pursuant to the directive to return to work, on September 25, 2018, Plaintiff returned to work still very sick and taking an assortment of medications.
  • He arrived and prepped for drills, did housework, and then threw ladders for over an hour with the other house rookie.
  • Plaintiff was called for a lineup around 1100 hours. During the lineup there was discussion about what was going on in the department.
  • At some point during this discussion Plaintiff was called out for looking like he was dozing off.
  • Plaintiff had been working very intensely in addition to having a lack of sleep and being sick.
  • Plaintiff was yelled at by the Captain II stating “what is wrong with you, this is not normal?!”
  • Plaintiff then explained he was had not been able to get much sleep, had been sick, and was just doing significant labor-intensive work, however he was certainly fit for duty. Immediately and without any good cause, a drug test was initiated by the acting chief against Plaintiff for what can only be described as he was looking tired during lineup.
  • After complying with orders to take the test, Plaintiff was immediately placed on administrative leave from the LAFD

Elbe was terminated on October 5, 2018. The complaint alleges discrimination and retaliation on the basis of a disability. It also alleges the city failed to accommodate his disability, and failed to engage in an interactive process to consider a reasonable accommodation.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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