The union leader for Chula Vista firefighters has filed a tort claim against the city of Chula Vista, its city manager, fire chief and the assistant director of human resources for denying him a promotion for what he said is “retaliation” for his actions in representing the city’s firefighters.
Tort claims are civil wrongs recognized by law as grounds for a lawsuit.
John Hess, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2180, has spoken publicly at Chula Vista City Council meetings against the closure of a fire station, the need for a new fire truck and fire equipment and his concerns for staffing levels.
And last December, the firefighters union issued fire Chief Dave Hanneman a vote of no confidence that was presented by Hess as union president.
Hess’s attorney, Mike McGill, said his client’s disagreement with Hanneman and City Manager Jim Sandoval is the reason Hess has not been promoted from his fire engineer position to fire captain.
“He’s filed a claim because the city and those individuals have decided to deny him a promotion, more than one promotion, strictly because of his protected union activities,” McGill said.
The monthly salary for a fire engineer in the city of Chula Vista ranges from $5,514.88 to $6,703.38 compared to a fire captain who receives an income of $6,468.15 to about $7,862.07 a month.
Hess said the pay raise that comes with the promotion would help in supporting his family.
“I want to make more money like anyone else,” Hess said. “I want to be able to provide for my family like anyone else and I want to have a better retirement.”
The claim states that because of Hess’s activities in 2013, Hess has been “denied a promotion to the rank of fire captain, has been denied an acting or interim fire captain position, has been improperly removed from the promotional process and eligibility list, and has been made to suffer harassment, retaliation and discrimination.”
McGill wrote in the claim that Hess, who began his employment with the city of Chula Vista in 2003, has the qualifications that warrant a job promotion including being selected as the city’s Fire Engineer of the Year in 2012.
“During his employment, he has received no substantial or significant discipline and has received generally positive and outstanding work evaluations,” McGill states in the claim.
The claim states that the vote of no confidence and Hess’s public criticism of Hanneman during council meetings has strained the relationship between the fire chief and the union president.
“On numerous occasions, Hanneman, who took contrary positions to those advocated by Hess, would address those same council members and express anger, frustration and hostility toward Hess for advocating and holding a contrary position.”
Hess said he is just doing his job representing the city’s firefighters.
“I do feel that they are doing it (not promoting him) because they are coming after me because I hold my ground as union president to try to do what’s right, not just for my membership but also for the city,” Hess said.
Hess said he believes that Hanneman is also upset because Hess as the union president has filed about 20 grievances against Hanneman.
Hess said Sandoval has it out for him because Sandoval is upset with him over labor negotiations, which are in their 12th month. Sandoval is the chief negotiator for the city of Chula Vista when it comes to labor negotiations.
Assistant Director of Human Resources Irene Mosley has been included in the claim because Hess said she removed his name from the captain’s eligibility list.
McGill said the city has a rule that says if the city passes an employee over three times for a job promotion they can take that person off the eligibility list.
Hess said to his knowledge the city has never removed someone from an eligibility list for promotion in all the years he has worked for the city.
Hess said he was passed over for a promotion three times in the last few years.
McGill also said Hess scored high enough on the test for a promotion, only to be passed over for a firefighter who scored lower than he did.
Deputy City Attorney Simon Silva said the claims for all defendants have been rejected.
Hess will now move forward with a lawsuit against the defendants, McGill said.
City Attorney Glen Googins, Sandoval and Hanneman said they could not comment for this story because “it is pending litigation.” Mosley deferred her questions to Silva who said he couldn’t comment.
Hess claims damages from the defendants. McGill said he expects the damages to exceed $25,000.
McGill said Hess’s promotion would stop any potential lawsuit.
“Had they given him the promotion he earned we wouldn’t have been here today,” he said.
Hess said he is also seeking back pay from the position as well as legal fees and gets the position without probation because he said probation would have already passed.