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Newport Beach firefighters sue department, alleging age discrimination

Three high-ranking Newport Beach firefighters have sued the city, alleging age discrimination

Three high-ranking Newport Beach firefighters sued the city this month, alleging that their superiors tried to force them out of the department because of their age.

The lawsuit says the alleged discrimination started after Chief Scott Poster came aboard in February 2012. Since then, the suit says, Division Chiefs Ron Gamble and Ralph Restadius and Battalion Chief Todd Knipp have been cut out of decision-making and pressured to retire in favor of younger workers.

Each of them is older than 50 and has worked at the Newport Beach Fire Department since 1985, according to the complaint filed Dec. 11 in Orange County Superior Court. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

City Atty. Aaron Harp said his office has reviewed the lawsuit and concluded that its claims are baseless.

The complaint says that in April 2012, the Fire Department changed the duties of battalion chiefs. Gamble and Restadius performed work assigned to that rank, despite their titles.

The changes included giving Gamble, Restadius and Knipp an amount of work that was "overwhelming at times," the complaint says.

The workload, the suit claims, was "disproportionate to those given to younger workers, and which resulted in the fire chief labeling the plaintiffs' work as 'unacceptable' and then assigning the projects to younger workers."

As time went on, the Fire Department began whittling down Gamble, Restadius and Knipp's duties and isolated them from decision-making and strategic planning that they had previously been part of, the complaint alleges.

"Plaintiffs were kept in the dark about current events in the department, often being informed of changes by their own subordinates," the lawsuit states.

All three allegedly were told, directly or indirectly, that they wouldn't advance further in the Newport Beach department. They were excluded from training for firefighters who managers said had at least three to five years left in their careers, according to the lawsuit.

Harp said the city values employees of all ages.

"In fact, the Fire Department needs workers who have significant fire experience to effectively protect the citizens of Newport Beach," he wrote in an email.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

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