Minnesota Firefighter Claims Sexual Orientation Discrimination

A Battalion Chief in Eagan, Minnesota has filed suit against his fire chief claiming he was demoted to firefighter on account of his sexual orientation.

Daniel Benson filed suit earlier this month in Dakota County District Court, alleging violations of his Constitution rights as well as violations of state and federal employment discrimination laws. Named in the suit are Fire Chief Michael Scott and the City of Eagan. The case was removed to US District Court yesterday by Chief Scott and the city because it raises questions of federal law.

According to the complaint, Chief Benson, an 18 year veteran, was called into a meeting in November, 2016, and told he would have to reapply for his position as a battalion chief. As part of the application process he was asked about his marital status, and disclosed that he was married to a man. Up until that time, Chief Benson had never revealed his sexual orientation to anyone in the department.

The suit claims that shortly after he disclosed being married to a man, Chief Scott informed Chief Benson that he would not be reappointed as a chief. He was instead demoted to firefighter.

The suit further alleges:

  • Upon information and belief, Benson’s position as battalion chief has been filled by a firefighter who is heterosexual, who is either married to or dating a female, and who is less experienced and less qualified for the position than was Benson.
  • After Benson was demoted from battalion chief to on-call firefighter, no other ranks were re-interviewed, nor were any ranks that were interviewed or re-applied similarly demoted.
  • Based upon the timing of his being “outed” and the pre-textual reasons given for his demotion from battalion chief to on-call firefighter, it is clear that although the Eagan fire department may employ gay “black-hat” firefighters, Defendant Scott, as chief, will not consider them for leadership positions, as evidenced by his firing Benson, a gay man, as a battalion chief.
  • In order to continue his lifelong dream of being a firefighter, Benson will and must accept the on-call firefighter position.
  • As a result of the demotion from battalion chief to on-call firefighter, Benson will suffer lost pay and a diminution of his benefits including his pension.
  • As a result of the demotion from battalion chief to on-call firefighter, which perpetuates a discriminatory attitude that gay persons are second-class citizens in the Eagan fire department, Benson will further suffer embarrassment, humiliation, and mental and emotional anguish.

Chief Benson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the city and Chief Scott personally.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Benson v Scott

Here is a copy of the removal petition: Benson v Scott REMOVAL

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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