Ex-Firefighter Sues Two Previous Employers Over Information Shared Between Them

A newly hired Los Angeles firefighter who was terminated last year for allegedly lying about his medical history has filed suit against the city and his previous employer, the Riverside Fire Department, accusing them of violating California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and several torts.

Joseph Camarillo filed suit last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He claims he was wrongfully fired by LA City in January, 2019 after information surfaced about his work history with the Riverside Fire Department.

According to the complaint:

  • On or around May 5, 2017 Plaintiff suffered an injury while on duty [with the Riverside Fire Department] and was taken off work by his doctor.
  • Plaintiff returned to work on light duty, and when he returned Deputy Chief Stamper yelled at Plaintiff for getting injured, claiming he was at fault for getting injured.
  • Deputy Chief Stamper told Plaintiff that he wanted him to return to work full duty despite his doctor’s work restriction indicating that he could only return in a light duty capacity.
  • On or around May 16, 2017, Plaintiff later returned to work full duty, and several months later, in or around August 2017, suffered another work-related injury.
  • Although Plaintiff was cleared to return to work full duty by his personal physician in or around November 2017, the City doctor would not clear him to return to work full duty until April 2018.
  • Because Defendant RFD would not allow him to return to work despite clearance by his personal physician, Plaintiff applied for a job with the Los Angeles Fire Department.
  • Plaintiff began work as a firefighter with the LAFD in July 2018.
  • Plaintiff performed all aspects of his job as a firefighter with the LAFD in an exemplary fashion.
  • Suddenly, in late 2018, Plaintiff was told by LAFD supervisors that he had to fill out another medical evaluation, even though he had already done so in February 2018.
  • Plaintiff was told that his background investigation was not complete.
  • Plaintiff was then given a detail to work from home from October [2018] through January 2019 but was not told anything about the investigation.
  • In late January 2019, Plaintiff was informed that he was being terminated by the LAFD.
  • Plaintiff was informed that the reason he was terminated was because he allegedly lied about his medical history, namely his medical history while employed with Defendant RFD.
  • Plaintiff learned thereafter that Defendant RFD supervisors, including specifically Deputy Chief Stamper, had met with and made statements to the LAFD about Plaintiffs medical condition while he was employed by RFD, including but not limited to: Plaintiffs IOD status; his ability to work full duty; and other statements about Plaintiffs medical condition and ability to perform the duties of a firefighter.

The suit alleges several violations of the FEHA, including failure to accommodate a disability, failure to engage in an interactive process, and retaliation. Camarillo claims he has a disability, or is perceived to have a disability, but the nature of disability is not disclosed in the complaint. The suit accuses Riverside of intentional interference with contractual relations, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage.

Although not identified as a separate count, the complaint alleges that Riverside “disclosed Plaintiffs confidential medical and personnel records and made defamatory statements about Plaintiff to LAFD.” Just speculating here as to why the complaint would not include an additional count for a HIPAA violation and/or breach of medical confidentiality, it is possibly because Camarillo signed a consent form allowing LAFD to speak to past employers that included confidential medical information.  Note to fire chiefs and attorneys representing fire departments: when doing background checks that may include conversations with previous employers – make sure you have a well drafted consent form signed by the applicant. However, there is a limitation to be considered: while a consent form may protect against a HIPAA claim, if the discussion reveals information that the new employer cannot use in an employment decision (age, disability, pregnancy, religion, etc.), even a well drafted consent form may not provide a defense in an employment discrimination suit. Complicated area!

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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