California Firefighter Files Fourth Race Discrimination Lawsuit

A California firefighter who filed three prior race discrimination lawsuits before being terminated last year, has filed a fourth suit. Vernon Creswell, who was a captain with the Montebello Fire Department until January 5, 2021, filed suit on May 9, 2022, alleging retaliation for his previous claims.

According to my records, Captain Creswell filed suit against the city in 2013, 2017 and 2020. In 2015, he was awarded $935,150 by a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury in the first case. The 2017 and 2020 cases are still pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The most recent case was filed in US District Court for the Central District of California. According to a Press Release issued by Captain Creswell’s attorney, Lincoln Ellis:

  • Former Montebello Fire Captain Vernon Creswell’s complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), has been accepted, which will result in a full-fledged investigation by the State into the culture of discrimination and retaliation in the City of Montebello Fire Department.
  • Mr. Creswell previously was found to have been subject to race harassment and retaliation by a jury in 2015. 
  • Instead of immediately suing this time, Mr. Creswell has triggered an investigation by the State of California DFEH, to solve the underlying problems which allow discrimination and retaliation to fester and spiral.
  • Mr. Creswell hopes that the DFEH investigation will lead to his full reinstatement, with back pay. 
  • This is an unusual case in that two witnesses have signed declarations which show the Fire Chief Fernando Pelaez’s retaliatory animus.  Normally Fire Chiefs are not so brazen in admitting their unlawful employment practices of retaliating against whistleblowers.
  • To date, City Manager Rene Bobadilla has given no indication that he intends to investigate the retaliatory animus by Mr. Pelaez.  Similarly, there is no indication that City Manager Mr. Bobadilla has done any investigation into the allegations of Fire Department leadership using department resources to obtain expensive watches from outside of the City, or punitively slow down workers’ compensation claims by firefighters who are too independent for the leaders’ liking.  Mr. Bobadilla and Mr. Pelaez will have to explain their conduct to the State investigators. 
  • The City has also refused to follow its own Municipal Code (Section 2.60.220(B)) which required Mr. Creswell’s Civil Service Appeal to be heard within 20 days of his appeal, which is now almost three months overdue.

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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