A former Newport Beach firefighter has sued the city in Orange County Superior Court, alleging racial discrimination during his probationary employment period.
Christian Benard, 37, who is of Nicaraguan heritage, started in the city's probationary firefighting class in March 2009. He alleges that during his 10-month stint he was not given proper medical aid training and was unfairly criticized by captains at Fire Station No. 7 in Santa Ana Heights.
Benard asserts in court papers that immediately after he was assigned to the station, he noticed that he was treated differently than firefighters in his class who were not Latino, and that he sought his own medical aid training when it wasn't provided.
"Fearing that his training was being intentionally thwarted, Benard started attending training classes with Los Angeles County firefighters … and frequently went on ride-alongs for major fires and major trauma calls, during Benard's days off in Newport Beach," the suit alleges.
A captain at Fire Station No. 7 also allegedly drilled a team of rookie firefighters until one collapsed due to heat exhaustion and was transported to Hoag Hospital, according to Benard's suit.
Benard also alleges that two captains falsely accused him of abandoning his post during a major fire on Dec. 27, 2009, although he was praised for outstanding work in battling the fire by other captains.
He said that he was dismissed in January 2010 without warning, and that he may need to seek counseling.
In the claim, he says he was the only Latino firefighter in the probationary class.
In court documents, the city states that Benard failed to show any "oppressive or malicious conduct to support a claim of punitive damages" and said that "at this stage of this case … no evidence of unlawful harassment exists."
The city contends that "the allegations that Benard has made against the individual defendants perhaps are sufficient to constitute insults or indignities, but do not begin to satisfy the requirements of vileness and loathsomeness or to evoke the outrage associated with crime as required to properly plead a claim for punitive damages."
Currently the Fire Department, which includes lifeguards, employs 19 Latino, 11 Asian, two black, one Native American and 303 white staff members. Four staff members identified themselves as "other."
Attorneys for the city and Benard did not return calls for comment.
City spokeswoman Tara Finnigan would not comment on the lawsuit but said in an email that
"the city is committed to equal employment opportunity."
The city does not have any record of Benard filing a complaint with the city about his alleged mistreatment prior to the civil suit, according to Finnigan.
The Newport Beach city employee manual states: "The city is obligated to, and will, promptly investigate any claim of a violation of the policy [in regards to discrimination."
Benard, who did not return calls for comment, is seeking an unspecified amount of more than $25,000 in the suit.
A jury trial date is scheduled for Aug. 27.