California Firefighter Claims Age and Disability Discrimination Forced Him to Retire

A California firefighter who retired in 2019 has filed suit claiming he was forced to resign due to discrimination and a hostile work environment based upon his age and disability. William Hatcher was a fire inspector/fire prevention specialist with the El Segundo Fire Department.

Hatcher claims that after suffering injuries to his knees, the department refused his requests for a reasonable accommodation and doubled his workload to an intolerable level. Quoting from the complaint:

  • In or around 2017, Plaintiff incurred injuries to both of his knees, which required corrective surgery.
  • The condition of Plaintiffs knees is a physical disability as defined by the Fair Employment & Housing Act.
  • In or around April 2017, Plaintiff’s treating physician released him to return to work with light duty.
  • Plaintiff’s release included a restriction that he not climb ladders.
  • Plaintiffs immediate supervisor Fire Marshall James Carver advised Plaintiff that he could accommodate Plaintiff’s disability by assigning him to “desk duty.”
  • Carver’s superior Fire Chief Chris Donovan refused to assign Plaintiff to desk duty, even though such a position was available.
  • As a result, Plaintiff remained on medical leave.
  • Donovan’s refusal to assign Plaintiff to desk duty was  motivated by Plaintiff’s physical disability and his age.
  • In May 2017, Plaintiff’s physician released him to return to work without restrictions.
  • But Chief Donovan did not permit Plaintiff to return to his customary position of fire inspector/fire prevention specialist.
  • Rather, Donovan assigned Plaintiff to desk duty, where he could have, and should have, assigned him in April 2017.
  • Donovan’s refusal to return Plaintiff to his customary position was motivated by Plaintiff’s physical disability and age.
  • In June 2017, a City retained physician examined Plaintiff and found him fit for duty.
  • As a result of this examination, Chief Donovan returned Plaintiff to his customary position, but doubled his workload, making Plaintiff responsible to inspect 600 locations instead of 300.
  • When Plaintiff complained, Donovan told Plaintiff, “it’s a young man’s job.”
  • There existed no legitimate reason to double Plaintiff’s workload.
  • In doing so, Donovan was motivated by Plaintiff’s physical disability and age and intended to force Plaintiff to leave City’s employ because of his physical disability and age.
  • Donovan’s double workload assignments continued through 2017, 2018 and 2019.
  • Plaintiff complied with Donovan’s directive, but eventually was unable to keep up with this unreasonable and discriminatory workload assignment.
  • No reasonable person could have done so.
  • Rather, Plaintiff’s work environment became so hostile that any reasonable person would have been compelled to leave City’s employ.
  • As a result, Plaintiff retired from City on December 30, 2019. Plaintiff’s retirement constitutes a constructive discharge.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court based upon state law employment claims.  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.
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