Oregon Fire Department Sued Again for Discrimination

A second lawsuit has been filed against the City of Hillsboro, Oregon, arising out of alleged discriminatory conduct in the fire department. Kristi Asplund filed suit on May 12, 2021 in Washington County Superior Court. Recall yesterday’s post about a discrimination suit filed by three members of the Hillsboro Fire Department.

Asplund was fired on October 2, 2020 after she failed an EMS practical scenario a second time. She was a recruit in training at the time. The suit alleges that male recruits were treated differently when they failed portions of the training program. Her allegations connect with the allegations of Anne Raven, the lead plaintiff in the suit covered yesterday.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • Not long into Plaintiff’s training, Chief Gurske began telling others that he did not like Plaintiff and claimed she was a “know-it-all” and a “pain in the ass.”
  • On information and belief, Chief Gurske did not make these types of complaints about male recruits with personality traits similar to those of Plaintiff.
  • On information and belief, Plaintiff, as an intelligent woman who stood up for herself and asked questions, was not the type of female that Chief Gurske wanted working at Hillsboro F & R.
  • On September 23, 2020, Plaintiff was due to have her first test day.
  • A day or two beforehand, Chief Gurske excitedly told Captain Raven that Plaintiff may be out of the training program because she had suffered a minor abdominal injury during a fire training exercise.
  • [I]n the past, Hillsboro F & R had waited an appropriate amount of time, sometimes months, for injured recruits to heal before moving forward with their testing and training.
  • Plaintiff’s injury healed sufficiently for her to complete the tests as scheduled on September 23, 2020.
  • Plaintiff took her fire skills test, EMS scenario test, and written exams for both fire and EMS. She received a 96% on her fire written exam and a 93% on her EMS written exam, both among the highest scores in the group of recruits.
  • Plaintiff also completed and passed her fire scenario test. The test was extremely physical and left Plaintiff tired and dehydrated.
  • As soon as she finished, Chief Gurske rushed to Captain Raven—who was in charge of administering the tests—and ordered her to give Plaintiff her EMS scenario test right away.
  • Chief Gurske told Captain Raven that Plaintiff was hurting and that he wanted to see how she does under pressure.
  • On information and belief, Chief Gurske had never interfered in the training process in this way and had never told Captain Raven in what order to administer the tests.
  • Captain Raven followed Chief Gurske’s order and took Plaintiff right into her EMS scenario test without a chance to adequately catch her breath or hydrate.
  • Plaintiff made a mistake in her EMS scenario and received a fail.
  • After Plaintiff failed the test, Chief Gurske told Captain Raven that he was going to “get the ball rolling with HR” to start Plaintiff’s termination process.
  • This was highly unusual because termination is not considered until after a recruit fails two tests.
  • On information and belief, Chief Gurske had never previously began the termination process after a recruit failed a single test.
  • When a recruit fails a test, he or she is required to retake the test.
  • Chief Gurske ordered Captain Raven to administer Plaintiff’s retest on the next business day she was scheduled to work.
  • This was also unusual because recruits are usually given more time to prepare for a retest.
  • Chief Gurske told Captain Raven that he was going to give Plaintiff her “last rites.”
  • The following day, on September 24, 2020, the recruits assigned to the B shift had their test day.
  • A male recruit, Reed Keltner, failed his EMS written test. The test he was given had just been rewritten by Captain Raven pursuant to Chief Gurske’s orders and was dramatically easier than the test that was given to prior recruit classes.
  • Even with this easier test, Mr. Keltner did not come close to passing.
  • While the recruit he was paired with scored a 93%, Mr. Keltner’s score was between 50% and 60%.
  • While Captain Raven was in the middle of grading the test, Chief Gurske walked by her as he was leaving for the day.
  • It was clear to Captain Raven that Mr. Keltner was going to fail the test and she told this to Chief Gurske.
  • Chief Gurske responded by asking if it was worth hurting Mr. Keltner’s entire career over.
  • This was the day after Chief Gurske had given Plaintiff her “last rites” and said that he was going to “get the ball rolling with HR” after she had failed one test.
  • After she had finished grading the test, Captain Raven notified some of the other training supervisors that Mr. Keltner had failed.
  • The other supervisors, who were all male, came to Mr. Keltner’s defense and attempted to get Captain Raven to throw out certain questions that Mr. Keltner had missed.
  • Even with those questions removed, Mr. Keltner still would have received a failing grade.
  • Captain Raven texted Chief Gurske that night and informed him that Mr. Keltner had failed the test.
  • Chief Gurske said that he was concerned about the difficulty of the test, which no other recruit had failed and which was significantly easier than the test taken by prior recruit classes.
  • Chief Gurske told her that he wanted to retest Mr. Keltner the following Monday with a “modified” test and that they needed to take a “360 [degree] view of the failure.”
  • Captain Raven told Chief Gurske that it was unfair to give Mr. Keltner this special treatment after the way he had handled Plaintiff’s test failure.
  • The following day, Chief Gurske told Captain Raven and the other training supervisors that he was throwing out Mr. Keltner’s test result.
  • He claimed the test was invalid and unfair, despite the fact that Chief Gurske had approved the test before it was given and that Mr. Keltner was the only recruit to fail it.
  • Chief Gurske then claimed that he had shown the test to Human Resources and they had determined it was unfair and would not support a termination.
  • Captain Raven asked Chief Gurske who he had spoken with in Human Resources.
  • Chief Gurske said he had spoken with Carlton Babbit.
  • Captain Raven said that she would like to set up a meeting with Chief Gurske and Mr. Babbit.
  • Chief Gurske refused and began to yell at Captain Raven for being insubordinate.
  • The next day, Chief Gurske gave Captain Raven a write-up that criticized her attitude and tone.
  • Chief Gurske modified the test, making it even easier.
  • Mr. Keltner was scheduled to retake the modified test on September 28, 2020.
  • Unlike with Plaintiff, who was told the training schedule would not be altered and that she would need to leverage outside resources to prepare for her retake, the recruits and training staff were given time during their shift, apart from personal hours, to help Mr. Keltner study for his retake.
  • Mr. Keltner retook the “modified” EMS written test, which was personally administered and graded by Chief Gurske, and passed.
  • During the retest, Plaintiff performed substantially better than the first time she had taken the test.
  • She completed the test flawlessly until the very end, when Plaintiff failed to recognize a heartbeat rhythm change.
  • The mistake was a common one, but technically resulted in a failure of the test.
  • After the test, Captain Raven spoke with Chief Gurske and the other training supervisors. Captain Raven said that she felt bad failing Plaintiff because she had performed so well up until the very end.
  • She had shown significant improvement since the first time she had taken the test and, if she could improve that much in a week without help from anyone at Hillsboro F & R, it bode well for her future.
  • Chief Gurske and the other training supervisors refused to see this as anything other than a black and white issue.
  • In sharp contrast to Chief Gurske’s assertion that they needed to take a “360 [degree] view” of Mr. Keltner’s test failure, Chief Gurske stated that, because Plaintiff had received a second failing grade, termination was required.

The suit alleges gender discrimination and retaliation under state law. Here is a copy of the complaint.

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

Four DC Firefighters Seek $10 Million for Race and Gender Discrimination

Four firefighters with the District of Columbia Fire & EMS have filed suit alleging race and gender discrimination. Jadonna Sanders, Shalonda Smith, Takeva Thomas and Bolatito Ajose are seeking damages of $10 Million.

Two Tulsa Chiefs Sue Claiming Gender Discrimination

Two chief officers in the Tulsa Fire Department have filed suit claiming they were passed over for promotion because of their gender, and retaliated against after they complained. Greta Hurt and Julie Lynn filed suit in US District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.