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Montebello Slammed With Lawsuit for Retaliation Against Firefighter Captain

Montebello Fire Captain Vernon Creswell filed a suit today in Los Angeles Superior Court  for retaliation for his whistleblower complaints of race discrimination, and related issues.  Mr. Creswell also seeks injunctive relief for violations of his rights under the Firefighter’s Bill of Rights and disability discrimination law. 

The suit is against the city of Montebello and 100 “DOES.” DOES are placeholders for individuals and/or businesses who may be included in a lawsuit but have not yet been identified.

Mr. Creswell previously was found to have been subject to racial harassment and retaliation by a jury in 2015, and remains employed by the City.  

The Complaint for Damages and Injunctive Relief alleges that the City has retaliated against him for his whistleblower complaint in September 2020.

In a statement Creswell wrote: “IT’S TIME TO END SYSTEMIC RACISM AND RETALIATION IN THE MONTEBELLO FIRE DEPARTMENT

“As people across the State of California have their lives upended by fires that are encroaching on residential areas, this is a good time to ask what it’s like to actually work as a firefighter.  Too often, the ‘old boys network’ inside fire departments hinders newcomers’ ability to not only put out fires, but also to help the public in many other ways. I have proudly been a Firefighter/Paramedic for 26 years, including 12 of those years with the City of Montebello. I love my chosen profession serving the public. I love the fact that I have been able to cherish a career helping hundreds if not thousands of people over the years.

As an African-American Firefighter, I have always sought to improve the Montebello Fire Department and make it more welcoming to minorities including women, while at the same time respecting my coworkers of different backgrounds. I am not someone whose first instinct is to sue. I have let many problematic remarks by fire department employees slide, so as to try to get along with my coworkers and supervisors.

I finally sued the City of Montebello for the first time in 2013 after a series of incidents, the worst of which included being called the ‘N-word’, ‘Compton Gang Banger’, and ‘Mush Mouth’ from the television show Fat Albert. A jury agreed that I had been subject to racial harassment and retaliation.

 “I sued the City of Montebello again for retaliation in 2017, after I applied for promotion to Battalion Chief and was unfairly denied. Some of the department leadership made remarks such as, ‘If promoted to Battalion Chief, I would destroy the organization’ and ‘minorities always cheat on exams,’ indicating that they would never give me a fair chance at the promotion because of my prior complaints of race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

 “The 2017 case has not yet been heard by a jury. In settlement conferences, the City has insisted that I leave the fire department and retire (15 years early) as a condition of settlement. I feel the City wants to push me out for having the courage to assert my legal rights. I have made it very clear on several occasions that I do not want to leave the department and give up my career. I want to be treated fairly, included in the decision making that helps with the growth and a more racially diverse department, and continue to do my job helping the public. Recently I was notified of an ‘investigation’ into my on-the-job actions, which I feel are unwarranted and is completely retaliatory.  I won’t go into details since the so-called ‘investigation’ is ongoing and I’m prohibited from discussing the details. 

 “If someone wants to do a true investigation into real misconduct, they should start at the top.  It’s time for the Montebello City Council or the California Attorney General to look into a pattern of discrimination and retaliation, and other misconduct within the Montebello Fire Department that is perpetuated by the department leadership.  If the City of Montebello or the Fire Department wants to truly clean up its act and change the culture, it will need to take a new approach with independent oversight. The leadership current team is not up to the job and has enabled or perpetuated the culture of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against those who stand up for what is right.

 “Recently I was told by one of the Fire Department leaders that the City Manager Mr. Bobadilla wanted to have lunch with me and really get to know me as a person, and had given him my cell number.  This turned out to be a bait and switch.  Instead of a friendly phone call that I expected, the only communication from the City has been settlement offers contingent on me leaving the department, 15 years before I had planned to. 

“On several occasions I reached out to the Fire department leadership with the hope to collaboratively work towards expanding the candidate pool in an effort to hire qualified African-American Chief Officers in some key leadership roles within the fire department.  My efforts have gone unreciprocated, and none of the current leadership seems to be interested in building a department which reflects the community we serve.  Further, current Montebello Fire Department leadership has engaged in dubious behaviors such as ordering an employee to take a city vehicle out of the city to pick up expensive watches (for leaders’ personal use) while on duty.

 “On another occasion current Montebello Fire Department leadership ordered a fire engine while on duty to go out of the city limits and into East los Angeles to attend a birthday parade. One of the members of the Montebello Fire Department leadership boasted to me (back when we were friendly) that he could slow down the workers’ compensation processing for firefighters who he did not like.  Indeed, it is suspicious that lately I have not been able to obtain workers’ comp treatment that I need and am entitled to. 

 “If Montebello City Council or the California Attorney General wants to investigate this misconduct and pattern of systemic racial bias and retaliation, they should interview myself and other firefighters under the auspices of a ‘truth commission’ and a guarantee of absolutely no retaliation.   This is essential to bringing about transparency and equality that is severely needed. All I want is to be able to do my job, serve the public, and have a fair shot at promotions, without being subjected to systemic race-based harassment, retaliation and discrimination.  The Fire Department and City Staff seem to view me as a problem for speaking up, rather than seeing me as a part of the solution.  It’s time that whistleblowers like me be thanked for bringing forward important issues to see the light of day, rather than repeatedly and unfairly punished.” 

 

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