Texas Firefighter Claims Retaliation for Cooperating With Investigation

A Texas firefighter has filed suit claiming he was retaliated against for cooperating with a sexual harassment investigation into the fire chief. Aaron Ford filed suit today naming the Klein Volunteer Fire Department and Harris County Emergency Services District #16 as defendants.

Ford claims that he was retaliated against because he participated in an investigation the resulted from a retaliation complaint filed by Training Chief Ryan Horton. Chief Horton’s retaliation arose because he participated in a sexual harassment investigation into former Fire Chief Michael Gosselin. Here is earlier coverage of Chief Horton’s lawsuit.

The factual allegations are complicated, compounded by the inconsistent use of first and third person references to Ford in the complaint (First person = I, me, my, myself; Third = Mr. Ford or Plaintiff). From the complaint:

  • In December 2021, former Training Chief Ryan Horton, was retaliated against for participating in a sexual harassment investigation against the former Fire Chief, Michael Gosselin that was filed by Jaime Serghini.
  • Thereafter, Mr. Horton submitted an inquiry with the EEOC, naming Plaintiff as a witness.
  • Mr. Horton subsequently filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC.
  • Mr. Horton was then subjected to a retaliatory hostile work environment for filing his inquiry and charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
  • Plaintiff, having worked there at the time, witnessed Mr. Horton being subjected to a retaliatory hostile work environment and later terminated.
  • After Plaintiff was named in Mr. Horton’s inquiry, Mr. Ford participated in the EEOC’s investigation.
  • After his cooperation, Mr. Ford was subjected to retaliation in the form of a retaliatory hostile work environment.
  • In January of 2022, Mr. Horton filed his Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC.
  • When Deputy Chief Baron Edmiston was notified of Mr. Horton’s EEOC Charge, Chief Edmiston told Plaintiff in a phone call that he was “fucked” for cooperating in an EEOC investigation.
  • In March 2022, I was advised via text message to stay away from Mr. Horton and Mrs. Serghini by ESD #16 Commissioner, Gary Morrison. Commissioner Morrison insinuated that I would be subject to further retaliation, including the termination of my employment, if I did not heed his warning.
  • In March 2022, Commissioner Gary Morrison told me via text message on my personal phone saying, “I’ll advise you once again, put some distance between you and this mess.” Additionally, via phone call, Commissioner Morrison said, “I advise you to stay away from Jaime Serghini and Ryan Horton.”
  • On or around April 13, 2022, myself and three other individuals were instructed to clean Fire Chief Montgomery’s KVFD Tahoe. While cleaning the Tahoe, I found a Zip Lock bag with multiple playboy magazines in the Fire Chief’s Tahoe. I video recorded the situation and followed proper protocol because the situation seemed like Fire Chief Montgomery was trying to set me up to frame me and say I planted the Zip Lock bag of Magazines to find a reason to terminate my employment with KVFD.
  • In May 2022, Chief Christian Parson told Fire Chief Montgomery that he wanted to have charges filed on myself and Ryan Horton because Ryan Horton dropped off Anna Vollenweider’s ESD16 election sign in the back of my truck while my truck was at Station 33.
  • In July 2022, KVFD employees began receiving job offers from ESD #16 as part of the merger with KVFD.
  • On July 6, 2022, I e-mailed RaChele Parker of RIT Management Group (contracted human resources group for ESD #16) and inquired as to when I could expect to receive my job offer. Ms. Parker responded to my e-mail that dame day informing me that I was scheduled to be onboarded the following week on July 11, 2022.
  • On July 11, 2022, ESD #16 held a public meeting which I attended. During this meeting, the Board elected to have a closed session to discuss confidential topics-myself being the topic of discussion.
  • On July 12, 2022, I received a text message from Ms. Parker asking me to give her a call. During our telephone conversation, she informed me that I would not be receiving a job offer from ESD #16. She would not provide me with an explanation as to how ESD #16 came to this decision. Ms. Parker did inform me that I could still interview for the available Training Chief Position.
  • Later that day, I submitted and inquire with the EEOC and notified KVFD and ESD #16 of my EEOC inquiry that same day.
  • On July 13, 2022, I showed up to interview for the Training Chief position. Ms. Parker admitted that she “forgot” to bring my resume (which I had previously provided to her) to my interview. I did not receive this position.
  • On August 12, 2022, my employment with KVFD and ESD #16 was officially terminated, and I was not provided a reason for why I was terminated.
  • Despite terminating me, ESD #16 was actively seeking to hire several part-time firefighters. In fact, ESD #16 chose to continue the employment of all KVFD employees except Mr. Horton, Mrs. Serghini, and myself in retaliation for engaging in protected activity.
  • I applied for positions with other fire departments, and specifically for a firefighter position with the Ponderosa Fire Department. Lance Wilson, who was the ESD 16 Board President, was reviewing applications for the Ponderosa Fire Department (“PFD”).
  • On or around August 21 2022, a fellow firefighter, James Moore, saw my application at PFD and asked Lance Wilson about it while they were at Cypress Creek Fire Department. Lance Wilson told him, “Oh you don’t have to worry. He won’t work anywhere around here again.” This was done in retaliation for me filing an EEOC complaint myself as well as for engaging in protected activity as it pertains to Ryan Horton’s case.
  • As a result of Mr. Wilson’s unlawful behavior, Plaintiff was not interviewed nor hired for the firefighter position with PFD.

The suit alleges retaliation, retaliation through hostile work environment, and retaliation through interference with subsequent employment, all violations Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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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