Texas Firefighter Claims He was Forced To Resign Due to Sexual Orientation

A San Antonio firefighter who resigned in 2021 has filed suit alleging he was being discriminated against on account of his sexual orientation. Austin Tschirhart filed suit in federal court naming the city and Lieutenant Gerrilyn Casals as defendants.

Tschirhart claims the hostility began in 2018 before he was hired when a background investigator advised him to “remove any mention of his sexual orientation from his social media and to not tell anyone at SAFD that he was gay until after his probationary employment period was over.” After completing the fire academy in 2020, during one of his early assignments he was called a “faggot” by two firefighters, prompting him to request a transfer.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • A couple of weeks after Tschirhart started at Station 48 he learned that there was gossip about him circulating among others at the department.
  • Tschirhart’s District Chief Brook Hildreth discussed these with Lieutenant Gerrilyn Casals.
  • Tschirhart was informed that the rumors came from Station 17.
  • Tschirhart met with Chief Hildreth and told her that he believed this was happening because he was gay. Chief Hildreth told Tschirhart to contact HR and he did.
  • On December 9, 2020, Tschirhart submitted a statement to the City of San Antonio Human Resources Department.
  • In it he described how he had been treated and stated his concerns that other firefighters would not help him because he was gay.
  • Tschirhart further told HR that he had expressed these concerns to both Lieutenant Gerrilyn Casals and the Station Chief, Brooke Hildreth.
  • Over time, Tschirhart’s co-workers’ interactions with him got worse and worse.
  • In May of 2021, Chief Hildreth asked Tschirhart if he would volunteer to work from Station 46 until the new assignment list came out. Tschirhart agreed.
  • When the transfer list was made available in November 2021, Chief Hildreth told Tschirhart that he would need to get a permanent position at Station 46 if he wanted to stay there, otherwise he would be sent back to Station 48.
  • On November 17, 2021, Tschirhart was contacted by Lieutenant Casals from Station 48.
  • She told Tschirhart that although she could not officially tell him not to come back, that he would not be welcome at the station and needed to find somewhere else to go.
  • Tschirhart requested a transfer to Station 14 in his district. After doing so, Tschirhart began to receive calls from firefighters at Station 14.
  • Osama Elkhaili, a firefighter from Station 14 called Tschirhart and told him that he should not request assignment on the A shift at Station 14 because a crew from Station 17 was coming over and his request for that assignment was “messing that up.”
  • Tschirhart received text messages from Eric Aunkst, a fire fighter from the B shift that asked Tschirhart to apply for a different shift because they already had someone in mind for the position he was applying for.
  • Tschirhart also received a call from an unidentified man who asked if he was still trying to work at Station 14, when Tschirhart started to answer the caller said “we don’t need a faggot at our station” and hung up.
  • Tschirhart understood that his position at SAFD would be untenable and submitted his resignation.

The complaint alleges gender discrimination under of Title VII and the Texas Labor Code, retaliation, and failure to correct sexual harassment. 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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