California Captain Claims Age Discrimination & Retaliation

A California fire captain who was passed over for promotion to battalion chief has filed suit claiming age discrimination and retaliation for having complained about a perceived violation of the law. Captain Scott Martinez filed suit last week against the City of El Segundo and Fire Chief Chris Donovan.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. It is the second age-discrimination suit brought by a member of the El Segundo Fire Department in recent months. Battalion Chief Shawn Bonfield filed suit last December.

Captain Martinez alleges that in 2020, he complained to the City and ESFD Human Resources Director David Serrano about a scheme the fire department administration was using to improperly divert funds from a consent decree. Later he became aware that certain other captains had been given answers to the April 2019 Battalion Chief examination and reported that to the City’s Department of Human Resources. Thereafter he was passed over from promotion, despite being ranked second on the promotion list.

The suit contends that Captain Martinez was not promoted to battalion chief due to his age and his having filed those two complaints with HR. It further alleges that two of the captains who were improperly supplied with answers to the BC exam and were ultimately promoted to BC, proceeded to harass him. The complaint accuses the chiefs of:

  • Making unwarranted criticism of Plaintiffs performance in the presence of Plaintiffs colleagues and subordinates;
  • Ordering Plaintiff to do certain tasks and then countermanding those orders after Plaintiff had begun or even completed those tasks;
  • Directing Plaintiffs subordinates to take certain actions at the scenes of emergencies which were improper and had the effect of placing those persons in jeopardy;
  • Assigning Plaintiff tasks in such a fashion as to not give Plaintiff sufficient time to complete those tasks; and
  • The conduct ascribed to … herein was pervasive and was motivated by Plaintiffs age.
  • [The supervisors’] conduct, as described herein, was so severe as to, and did, create an environment so hostile as to adversely affect the terms and conditions of the employment of any reasonable person and did adversely affect the terms and conditions of Plaintiffs employment ultimately causing him to seek medical care from licensed practitioners.

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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