$1 Million Whistleblower Verdict Against LAFD Upheld

The California Court of Appeals has upheld a $1 million jury verdict against the City of Los Angeles in a suit brought by two city fire officers.

Battalion Chief John Miller and Captain Michael Rueda filed a whistleblower retaliation suit in 2009 after they were removed from the department’s Arson Counter-Terrorism Section (ACTS). They claimed the transfers were in retaliation for their having reported “violations of state or federal statutes” by arson investigators.

Chief Miller and Captain Rueda filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The case was tried in February 2011, and jurors found in Chief Miller’s favor awarding him $993,491.23 in damages under the California Labor Code §1102.5, the whistleblower statute. The jury rejected Captain Rueda’s claims.

Last week the Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District, Division 7, upheld the verdict concluding it was “supported by substantial evidence.” According to the decision:

  • In this case, the jury reasonably could have found that the City subjected Miller to an adverse employment action when it permanently transferred him from his position as commander of ACTS to platoon duty.
  • There was also substantial evidence that Miller’s transfer materially affected his job performance and opportunities for advancement in his career.
  • While the City provided a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for its detail decision, Miller presented substantial circumstantial evidence to support a finding that the City’s proffered explanation was a mere pretext for retaliation.
  • Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, the jury reasonably could have found that the City’s proffered explanation for its decision to permanently transfer Miller from ACTS was pretext for unlawful retaliation.

Here is a copy of the ruling: Miller v Los Angeles

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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