Demoted California Battalion Chief Alleges Retaliation and Bill of Rights Violation

A Glendale fire captain who was demoted from battalion chief last December, has filed suit claiming his demotion and subsequent removal from two special projects was retaliation for his opposition to what he characterizes as an “illegal directive” from his fire chief.

Captain Brian Murphy filed suit last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming his demotion violated the California Labor Code §1102.5 and the California Firefighter Procedural Bill of Rights. Captain Murphy was promoted to Battalion Chief in March 2019, and assigned to a regional communication center. His promotion was subject to a one-year probation period.

According to the complaint, then BC Murphy was reprimanded and yelled at after informing his fire chief that a directive to deploy state-funded “preposition Red Flag Warning event”- engine companies to routine incidents violated the terms of the state program. Quoting from the complaint:

  • As the Battalion Chief, Plaintiff was responsible for the Verdugo Communication Center (hereinafter “Verdugo”).
  • Verdugo is responsible for “Area C” which includes Burbank, Glendale, Monrovia, Pasadena, Arcadia, Sierra Madre, San Gabriel, Monterey Park, Alhambra, Montebello, and Hollywood/Burbank airport.
  • In order to help combat wildfires, the State of California has agreed to fund local and municipal fire engines, for the purpose of being on call to augment responding agencies in the area.
  • Amongst other costs, the State funding pays for the per-day cost of the fire apparatus, the administrative costs, and the personnel costs.
  • Each municipal entity can choose whether to apply for State funding during a preposition red flag warning event.
  • If the municipal or local agency wants to participate, the municipal or local agency needs to designate a fire apparatus and apply to the State for funding.
  • Once the State approves the application, the designated apparatus is funded by the State, and must remain on call for the purpose of augmenting local agencies to combat wildfires and brushfires during the pendency preposition period.
  • Because the red flag warnings are evaluated on a daily basis, the municipal or local agencies apply for State funding on a daily basis during the pendency of the preposition period.
  • On or around October 22, 2019, it was determined that there was going to be a “preposition Red Flag Warning event” for Area C starting on October 23, 2019.
  • Ultimately, this preposition period ended up lasting until November 2, 2019.
  • On or around October 22, 2019, Plaintiff sent an email to the Area C fire departments to determine whether any of the fire departments wanted to provide a fire apparatus to participate in the State funding for the preposition period.
  • Without explanation, City of Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas directed Plaintiff to not inquire as to whether other agencies wanted to participate in the State funded program.
  • Plaintiff proceeded and applied for State funding and designated a City of Glendale type three fire engine as a participating fire apparatus. The application was approved.
  • At that time, the type three fire engine was funded by the State of California, and the designated purpose of the type three fire engine was to augment wildfire and brushfire calls in Area C during the pendency of the preposition period.
  • Moreover, because the type three fire engine was funded by the State during the preposition period, the type three fire engine was not meant for routine calls in the City of Glendale.
  • In addition to the City of Glendale type three engine, the City of Monrovia designated a type one engine to participate in the State funded program during the preposition period starting on October 23, 2019.
  • On or around October 28, 2019, Chief Lanzas directed the Plaintiff to make the participating fire engines (the type three engine from City of Glendale and type one engine from the City of Monrovia) available for routine calls, which fell outside the purpose of which those engines were being funded by the State during the preposition period.
  • Plaintiff had a reasonable belief that the directive violated State and local rules, regulations, and laws.
  • Plaintiff engaged in protected activity when Plaintiff reported the activity to Chief Lanzas and opposed Chief Lanzas’ illegal directive.
  • Specifically, Plaintiff reported to and opposed Chief Lanza’s directive when he informed Chief Lanzas that because the fire engines were State funded, the State dictates what the fire engine can be used for.
  • During the preposition period, the fire engines’ purpose of being funded was meant to augment wildfire and brushfire response.
  • In other words, making the fire engines available for routine calls meant the City of Glendale would be misappropriating State funds.
  • In retaliation for engaging in protected activity for reporting and opposing Chief Lanza’s illegal direction, Chief Lanza immediately reprimanded Plaintiff.
  • Chief Lanza yelled at Plaintiff and stated, “You work for me! This is the most pissed off I have been since I have been here. Do you really think the State is going to come after us for using their rig if we are short!?”
  • Shortly thereafter, on or around December 9, 2019, in further retaliation for opposing Chief Lanzas’ illegal directive, Chief Lanzas demoted Plaintiff back to the Fire Captain position.
  • As a result, Plaintiff’s career has been materially and adversely affected.

Following his demotion, Captain Murphy filed a complaint with Glendale’s city manager, which according to the complaint resulted in “a sham investigation” that “authorized and ratified Chief Lanza’s retaliatory conduct and confirmed Plaintiff’s demotion.” Thereafter, Captain Murphy was removed from two special projects he has been working on.

The complaint alleges the retaliation violated California Labor Code § 1102.5 and California Government Code §§ 3250 (Firefighter’s Procedural Bill of Rights Act).

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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