California Battalion Chief Sues Alleging Race Discrimination and Retaliation

A battalion chief with the Sacramento Fire Department has filed suit alleging race discrimination and retaliation. Jonathan Burgess filed suit in Sacramento County Superior Court alleging three violations of the California Government Code.

Chief Burgess claims he has been the victim of various instances of discrimination and retaliation on account of him being an African American, because he “served [as a] witness in support of a White firefighter… during a fact finding investigation,” and because he “escalated” the complaint of a female firefighter against a captain. He was later passed over for promotion to deputy chief twice, and claims that his superiors referred to him as a “cancer in the department.”

Quoting from the complaint:

  • Defendants failed and refused to take reasonable action to provide adequate and effective training to managers, supervisors and employees regarding discrimination, harassment and retaliation, failed to effectively train managers, supervisors and employees regarding how to prevent employment discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and failed to adequately train managers, supervisors and employees in how to reasonably, promptly and effectively handle complaints and notice situations raising issues of employment, discrimination, harassment and retaliation
  • Defendants responded to actual and constructive notice of and complaints regarding discrimination harassment and retaliation in a manner calculated to defendant and delay, rather than fairly and timely investigate situations noticed and complaints regarding discrimination, harassment and retaliation, with the intended purpose and foreseeable effect of supporting management at all costs, condoning and supporting discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
  • Defendants engaged in the above acts and omissions knowingly and as a matter of general business practice, without regard to the rights of employees, including Plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff was subjected to Race Discrimination which created a hostile work environment. Plaintiff was shunned, ridiculed, had his authority as a Battalion Chief undermined. Plaintiff was also referred to as the “Black Chief” Plaintiffs authority has been undermined, and he was denied promotional opportunities due to his protected status as an African American.
  • Indeed, he has been labeled as non-promotional despite having superior qualifications.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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