Oakland Captain Claims Race Discrimination and Retaliation

An Oakland captain is suing the city and Fire Chief Darren White claiming he was wrongly passed over for a promotion in the fire marshal’s office because his son was convicted of arson.  Captain Howard Holt filed the suit last week in US District Court for the Northern District of California alleging race discrimination, age discrimination, retaliation, and a host of state law claims.

Captain Holt, a 27-year veteran, claims he was the senior-most qualified applicant for promotion to “acting assistant fire marshal” in December, 2017. As such, and in accordance with fire department policy, he was offered and accepted the position.

The offer was rescinded in January 2018, and according to the complaint Chief White himself told Captain Holt it was because of his son’s conviction. Captain Holt grieved the decision prompting Chief White to change the promotional process. The city eventually agreed to settle the grievance provided Captain Holt released the city from all claims. Captain Holt refused.

From the complaint:

  • On or about December 9, 2017 Plaintiff Holt’s son was convicted of arson in Napa County Superior Court.
  • On or about December 15, 2017, Eric Logan (Battalion Chief) called Plaintiff Holt and offered him the position of Acting Assistant Fire Marshall, which he accepted.
  • On or about January 2, 2018 Plaintiff HOLT was informed by Battalion Chief Logan that defendant City was rescinding its December 15, 2017 offer.
  • Battalion Chief Logan told Captain Holt, he would not be offered the AAFM position because of “what is going on with your son”.
  • On or about January 15, 2018 defendant Darren White was at a Firefighter Union sponsored basketball tournament at Merit College and approached by Plaintiff Holt who inquired why he rescinded the position. Defendant White stated, “because of what’s going on with your son”, he would not be allow in the position.
  • Captain Holt then inquired “do you even know what happened”, “he was framed”. Captain Holt then stated, “I wish you would have talked to me and got the facts before making a decision like that”.
  • Defendant White then rebuffed “I know how it is, my father went to prison”.
  • On or about January 16, 2018 Plaintiff and President Robertson had a follow up discussion with Plaintiff and informed him that “Chief White said he is not putting you into that position and if you push it, he will change the process and just leave the position open until they give a test”.
  • On or about January 22, 2018 Plaintiff took the written test for Battalion Chief. On or about January 23, 2018 Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the Acting Assistant Fire Marshall Position (“AAFM”) not being given to him, when it should have based upon Defendant OFD protocol, guidelines and standards. The grievance was also filed based upon the statements of Defendant White.
  • On or about February 2, 2018, defendant White did change the process to be AAFM, as he stated he would to President Robertson just two weeks prior.
  • Defendant OFD issued communication # 12-18 was issued announcing Defendant OFD would be making a provisional appointment for the Assistant Fire Marshall (Sworn) assignment until completion of the recruitment for the position and invited interested members must apply for the provisional opportunity with a deadline of February 16, 2018.
  • On or about February 6, 2018 Defendant White denied the Plaintiff’s grievance.
  • On or about February 15, 2018 Captain Holt applied for the Assistant Fire Marshall (Sworn) assignment.
  • Lieutenant Felicia Bryant was “appointed” AAFM April 2018.
  • On or about June 8, 2018 B.C. Logan offered the AAFM position to Captain Holt and stated, “you won your grievance” and you “start Monday June 11, 2018”. Captain Holt inquired “what did I win” as the position was designated for him in December 2017. B.C. Logan responded, “you have to call your Union Rep” (Lieutenant Chuck Garcia) and ask him.
  • Immediately after the call, Plaintiff called Lieutenant Garcia and informed him of the conversation with B.C. Logan. Lieutenant Garcia was unaware of the offer and called the City Attorney’s Office, who stated Plaintiff could start the position June 11, 2018 if he would release the Defendants, and each of them, from any liability.
  • However, due to his morals, values, and the fact he was the only African-American Male on the list of qualified members in order of seniority, Captain Holt believed it wrong if he accepted the offer, after the fact.
  • This situation created by defendants, and each of them created a Hostile Work Environment for Plaintiff, as he was denied promotional opportunities (due to his race and or age), retaliated against, and made a mockery of- after 27 years of excellent service.
  • Defendant White’s willful disregard of Captain Holt’s designation of the position by seniority, consistent with MOU provision was an action to deny a promotion to a properly qualified African American which is discriminatory, unlawful, wrong, and worthy of imposition of punitive damages.

The complaint seeks to have Captain Holt promoted to Fire Marshal, retroactive pay, damages for emotional distress and punitive damages.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Holt v Oakland

More on the story.

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.

Check Also

Texas Captain Suspended for Waiving Handgun at Work

A captain with the San Antonio Fire Department has been suspended indefinitely for pointing a handgun at colleagues. Captain Rogelio Loredo admitted to waiving the pistol at two firefighters, but told investigators he was “just joking around.”

Fired FDNY EMT Suit Alleges Disability Discrimination

An EMT with FDNY who was terminated in April has filed suit claiming she is being discriminated against on account of a perceived disability. Giovanna Gonzalez filed suit claiming the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act.