California Firefighter Claims Age and Whistleblower Discrimination

A California firefighter who was seeking a lateral transfer to the Newcastle Fire Protection District, has filed suit claiming age discrimination and whistleblower retaliation. Brian Thompson contends that as a result of his whistleblower activities while a member of the French Camp McKinley Fire Department, his application was handled differently and ultimately rejected.

According to the complaint:

  • Mr. Thompson applied for a position as a firefighter with Newcastle Fire Protection District in 2019.
  • In June 2019, he took the written test and had an oral interview for the position.
  • Mr. Thompson was informed that he had passed these portions of the application process and was invited to take the manipulative and driving tests, which he also passed in June.
  • As part of the interview process, Mr. Thompson was asked about his background as a firefighter and the previous positions he held before making his application to NFPD.
  • Mr. Thompson was a witness with the San Joaquin Grand Jury regarding the practices he witnessed at French Camp and suffered retaliation from the command staff that adversely impacted his own employment.
  • Mr. Thompson was also forced to protect himself from those adverse employment action with a civil suit against French Camp and the relevant command staff.
  • On July 8, 2019, Mr. Thompson had an in-person interview with Chief Kushen.
  • He brought copies of his OMV record, credit report, and the Grand Jury Report for French Camp to his interview so that he could explain what had occurred at his prior position.
  • Prior to applying for the position with NFPD, Mr. Thompson was employed as a firefighter with the French Camp McKinley Fire Department.
  • During the time that Mr. Thompson was employed with French Camp, he observed illegal and improper activities by the command staff including misuse of funds, misuse of equipment, and discrimination based on race.
  • Chief Kushen contacted Plaintiff to offer him the position of Lateral Engineer with NFPD, contingent on his passing the background check.
  • Mr. Thompson was happy to have the offer and agreed to return the background packet a soon as possible.
  • Mr. Thompson turned in the completed background questionnaire and packet of documents at the Placer Hills Fire District office on July 10, 2019.
  • On July 21, 2019, Mr. Thompson had an interview scheduled with KP Investigations.
  • Over the next several weeks, he remained in contact with KP Investigations to ensure they received all necessary documents to complete the background check.
  • On August 21, 2019, Chief Kushen emailed Mr. Thompson that he had not been selected for the position with NFPD.
  • Mr. Thompson attempted to contact Chief Kushen via email and telephone to discuss why the job offer was being taken back, but he was simply told that the decision was final.
  • On September 9, 2019, a new employee, who was significantly younger than Mr. Thompson, began his first shift with NFPD in the position that had been previously offered to Mr. Thompson.
  • Mr. Thompson was informed that this new employee was not required to go through the same background check process and investigation with KP Investigations.
  • When Mr. Thompson followed up with KP Investigations, he was encouraged to continue seeking a position as a firefighter because they saw nothing in his background that should keep him from getting hired as a firefighter.

The suit alleges one count each of whistleblower violation, age discrimination, and retaliation under California 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.
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