Fired fire chief sues city for discrimination
on December 11, 2023
Former Fire Chief Angel Montoya has filed a discrimination case against Richmond, claiming the city fired him in October because of his Hispanic ethnicity and his age.
The lawsuit, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court on Nov. 28 and uploaded to the public portal Monday, alleges that two years after hiring Montoya, city officials found him too “old,” at 61, to lead the Fire Department.
Montoya was terminated on Oct. 26 after an impromptu meeting with City Manager Shasa Curl and City Attorney David Aleshire. At the time, the city told firefighters only that Montoya had left. His departure came three months after Richmond Firefighters Local 188 issued a vote of no confidence in Montoya’s leadership.
The union had been speaking out on social media about the department’s low staffing levels, high overtime hours and firefighters’ deteriorating mental health.
In the suit, Montoya argues that the vote was racially motivated. He said the union had voted no confidence in two other chiefs in the past, including Montoya’s predecessor.
“All three of us were from the outside and all three of us were of color,” Montoya said in an interview with Richmond Confidential. “They’ve given a vote of no confidence to no one else except the outsiders and the ones of color.”
The California Public Employment Relations Board filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the city based on Local 188’s claims in October. The union contended that Montoya interfered with union-protected activity, such as telling then-Deputy Fire Chief Aaron Osorio to ask battalion chiefs to report all Local 188 activities to him.
Mike Velazquez, president of Local 188, said the union would not be commenting on Montoya’s lawsuit.
The city has not yet filed its response to the suit. Through a spokesperson, Mayor Eduardo Martinez said he could not discuss ongoing litigation.
Montoya had spent most of his career in the Los Angeles Fire Department, rising to the rank of deputy fire chief. Last year, his base salary was $210,000. According to Montoya, he had received only one performance evaluation in Richmond and never saw the result. He said Curl, his supervisor, failed to meet with him in person during his two-year tenure and that he was never given a warning about his job performance.
“There’s nothing that happened to warrant termination,” said Steven Haney, Montoya’s attorney.
The lawsuit lays out a disturbing picture of a disorganized and chaotic fire department that operated like the “Wild West” when Montoya joined. No pride was taken in maintaining the stations, it said, prompting Montoya to start a project to spruce them up, which the rank and file did not get behind. Montoya claims he was never welcomed into the fold or invited to fire stations for dinner.
He also alleges that the command staff was conspiring with and taking direction from the union when it came to any major decisions, bypassing Montoya.
The lawsuit accuses 25 unnamed defendants — acting as agents and employees of the city — of sharing responsibility in Montoya’s termination.
“They’re anonymous at this point because they never disclosed to us what the inner workings were in terms of the decision-making process to terminate Chief Montoya,” said Haney. “In the event we find out the names of individuals who are responsible for Chief Montoya’s termination, we can bring them into the lawsuit, if we determine that’s appropriate.”
Montoya is seeking approximately $750,000 in damages for loss of income, both past and future, and for psychological and emotional distress. The case management hearing is scheduled for April 9.
Jule Hermann contributed to this story.
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