Oregon Lieutenant Sues Claiming He Was Forced To Withdraw From Promotional Process

An Oregon lieutenant who was pressured to remove himself from a promotional list for captain, has filed suit alleging discrimination on the basis of disability, veterans’ status, and whistleblower status.  Daniel Krug filed suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court naming the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue District and Division Chief Gregory Ladrow as defendants.

Krug claims Chief Ladrow wrongfully blocked his path to promotion despite him being ranked fourth on the 2019 captain’s list, and eventually being ranked first. Ultimately Krug was given an ultimatum to remove his name from consideration for promotion or his name would be removed by the department, in which case he would never be able to promote.

The saga is a long one. Krug is a veteran and apparently sent some emails over the department email system that upset some in the administration. Quoting from the complaint:

  • In July 2019, Plaintiff began the process of promoting to captain.
  • Promotions generally occur in the ranked order of the list with the highest score being “1” on the list and receiving the first promotion.
  • When the promotional list was first established on or about August 2019, Plaintiff was placed at number 4 on the list.
  • As promotions occurred, Plaintiff’s rank moved up on the list.
  • At times, Defendant District has failed to comply with laws relating to military members and veterans, including the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and application of veteran’s preference points under Oregon law.
  • In the Spring of 2019, Plaintiff submitted documentation to Defendant District’s human resources department to ensure that his veteran’s preference points would be appropriately applied to upcoming captain interviews.
  • Defendant District was resistant to complying with the law and only agreed to apply the veteran’s preference points after Plaintiff pushed the issue … and pointed out the District was required by law to apply the points.
  • On October 15, 2019, Plaintiff sent an email using the District’s server to union members about the upcoming union election in which he was critical of one of the candidates for president of the Local and questioned his ability to lead the Local should he be elected.
  • Shortly thereafter, on or about October 18, 2019, Defendant District decided to investigate Plaintiff’s October emails and whether they violated any policies.
  • The Local and Plaintiff asserted to Defendant District that the emails were protected concerted activity under the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act.
  • While Defendant District ultimately agreed that the October emails were protected speech and that it could not discipline Plaintiff for it, one of Defendant’s agents, Division Chief Greg Ladrow, used the communication as a basis for requiring a private meeting with Plaintiff on or about November 8, 2019.
  • The November 8th meeting between Plaintiff and Defendant Ladrow occurred weeks after the Local and Plaintiff believed the issue had been put to rest and no discipline would issue.
  • During the meeting… Defendant Ladrow was visibly angry, referenced the October emails negatively and expressed to Plaintiff that he would never be promoted within the organization. Plaintiff was shocked and upset by the November 8th meeting and Defendant Ladrow’s statements.
  • On January 1, 2021, Plaintiff was placed in an acting in capacity (AIC) captain assignment at Station 66.
  • On January 5, 2021, Defendant District interviewed Plaintiff for a vacant permanent captain position.
  • Both Plaintiff and his co-worker were interviewed by three panelists, Defendant Greg

Ladrow, Battalion Chief Frank Adams, and Division Chief James Whyte.

  • Defendant Ladrow provided his evaluator comments and observations for the other candidate in the assigned space, but failed to do the same for Plaintiff.
  • Out of the three evaluators, only Defendant Ladrow was able to assign a quantitative score for those interviewed for the captain’s position. These quantitative scores, solely decided by Defendant Ladrow, were used to justify the District’s promotional decisions for the January 2021 vacant permanent captain’s position.
  • Defendant Ladrow scored Plaintiff approximately half as many points in each category as he scored the other candidate in those same categories.
  • After the interview, both candidate scores were converted to percentages of available points, with Plaintiff at 50% and the other candidate at approximately 93%.
  • Plaintiff’s veteran’s preference points were then applied raising his overall score to 60%.
  • The District promoted the other candidate to the vacant permanent captain’s position.
  • On or about February 24, 2021, Defendant Ladrow and Plaintiff met regarding the January 2021 captain’s interview.
  • During the meeting, Defendant Ladrow pressured Plaintiff to remove himself from any other promotional processes and indicated to Plaintiff that he would not be promoted by Defendant District’s senior leadership.
  • Defendant Ladrow told Plaintiff to stop participating in any projects or positive work for the District because people in the District’s senior leadership were “tired of seeing his face.”
  • Defendant Ladrow also warned Plaintiff that any attempt to change the current political process for promotions within the department would not end up well for Plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff understood Defendant Ladrow to mean that any attempt to change the current system of the District’s administrator selecting a favored candidate regardless of objective merits would cause trouble for Plaintiff.
  • Defendant Ladrow told Plaintiff that while he could not “tell” Plaintiff to remove his name from the promotional list, it would signify to the Fire Chief that Plaintiff understood his place in the hierarchy of the department if he removed his name.
  • Defendant Ladrow went on to explain that even if he did bring Plaintiff’s promotional paperwork to the Fire Chief, the Fire Chief had stated that he would not sign it.
  • After saying this, Defendant Ladrow said that he did not want to have to put the Fire Chief in that position.
  • Plaintiff was stunned by Defendant Ladrow’s comments.
  • Plaintiff understood from this February 24, 2021, meeting that any further attempt on his part to promote to captain would be futile, no matter what scores or achievements he obtained.
  • Plaintiff was upset about the conversation he had with Defendant Ladrow. Up until that conversation with Defendant Ladrow, Plaintiff had believed that the promotional process was reasonably fair. After the conversation, he learned that his ability to promote at the District would be blocked no matter what he did to show that he was capable and deserving of promotion.
  • Plaintiff went to his Local to report the conversation and to express his concern that he would never be promoted.
  • On March 11, 2021, Plaintiff sent out an email to the Local’s members on the union listserv discussing his personal life, service in the military, and the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) and resulting suicides among military members.
  • When Plaintiff sent the March 11, 2021, email he was ranked at Number 1 on the promotional list for captain. He had also received positive evaluations from his immediate supervisor for the AIC captain’s position.
  • On or about March 11, 2021, one of the District’s supervisors, Battalion Chief Luke Kieffer, contacted Plaintiff about the March 11, 2021 email and expressed that District administration was upset about it, indicating that there might be an investigation and discipline.
  • Plaintiff explained that no policies were violated by the email or video shots. BC Kieffer agreed with Plaintiff that there did not appear to be a violation of policy or violation of email norms within the District, but explained that Defendant Ladrow “had it out” for Plaintiff and that this email had opened him up for [Ladrow’s] “ire.”
  • On March 12, 2021, the day after Plaintiff sent the email, Plaintiff was suddenly removed from his AIC captain position at Station 66 and assigned to be a “floater in place” from March 12 to April 1.
  • On or about March 23rd, 2021, Plaintiff reached out to Kelly Bach, the chief in charge of staffing, to inquire about the change to his captain status. Bach told Plaintiff that he was to be removed from his current AIC captain’s position. He informed Plaintiff that he would not be likely to be promoted on his next captain’s interview even though Bach ‘personally’ was a fan of Plaintiff’s leadership.
  • The notice from the District that he was being removed occurred on March 12, 2021 – the day after Plaintiff sent his email.
  • On March 31, 2021, Plaintiff and one of his co-workers were interviewed for a vacant captain position. The co-worker was not a veteran.
  • Plaintiff and his co-worker were interviewed by three panelists, Division Chief Steven Boughey, Battalion Chief Case Brown, and Battalion Chief (then Captain) Alex Haven, observations. Only Division Chief Boughey was able to assign a quantitative score for those interviewed.
  • In the scoring of the candidates, DC Boughey noted both the October 2019 email from Plaintiff and the March 2021 email as negative factors against Plaintiff.
  • Despite including positive comments about Plaintiff’s interview, Boughey scored plaintiff at approximately 50% or 40% (5/10 or 4/10) for each of the three categories. His scores for the other candidate were 90% (or 9/10) in each of the three categories. Based on information and belief, before the March 31st captain interviews Defendant Ladrow had briefed Division Chief Boughey on who the District wanted to promote and told DC Boughey that Plaintiff was not to be promoted.
  • Based on information and belief, Defendant Ladrow also told Division Chief Boughey that the panel should focus their questions on Plaintiff’s October 2019 and March 2021 emails.
  • Two days later, on April 2, 2021, Deputy Chief of Operations Kenny Frentress and Deputy Chief of Administration Laura Hitt wrote a memo to District HR recommending removal of Plaintiff from captain consideration.
  • The memo called for his removal from consideration as Plaintiff’s interview scores in January and March 2021 had “failed to demonstrate the ability to meet the required competencies and is not qualified to perform the duties of the captain position.”
  • Fire Chief Weiss supported the removal of Plaintiff’s name from the promotional list.
  • BC Kieffer asked Defendant Ladrow if he could call Plaintiff directly and give him the grace to at least pull his own name off the list rather than having Civil Service force his hand. Defendant Ladrow told BC Kieffer to convey to Plaintiff that he is not fit to be a captain based on the October 2019 and March 2012 emails he sent out and should remove his name before we remove it.
  • BC Kieffer called Plaintiff and told him that administration at the District would pull his name off the list and, while he could not tell him what to do, conveyed that Plaintiff should take his own name off because he might have another chance at promotion someday if he did.
  • Plaintiff struggled with the decision but ultimately, on April 9, 2021, requested that his name be removed from the promotional list for captain. Plaintiff was pressured into the decision to remove his name from the list by the District administration and Defendants. He feared that if he did not do so, he would be subjected to an investigation targeted to discredit and ruin him within the District. He feared his reputation and livelihood would be negatively affected.

The suit alleges violations of Oregon state law, namely disability discrimination relative to his PTSD; veterans’ discrimination; whistleblower retaliation; and a claim against Chief Ladrow for aiding and abetting a violation of 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.
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