A former West Covina Fire Department captain is suing the city, alleging he was forced to resign in 2022 in the face of possibly losing his retirement medical benefits for complaining of retaliation for reporting that the fire chief was not following coronavirus safety measures and was trying to force him to leave the department.
Curtis McCart’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges disability and age discrimination as well as retaliation. He seeks reinstatement along with unspecified compensatory damages.
West Covina City Attorney Thomas Duarte did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Thursday.
McCart, 56, worked with the WCFD for more than 32 years and prior to his alleged forced retirement was the city’s most senior fire captain. Starting in March 2020 and continuing through 2022, McCart complained that Fire Chief Vincent Capelle refused to wear coronavirus masks and socially distance when indoors, the suit states.
“Fire Chief Capelle led by example in breaking COVID-19 safety regulations,” according to the suit, which further alleges that in doing so, Capelle “created a culture at the department that permitted employees to openly flout without consequence COVID-19 safety regulations.”
McCart also spoke out about other workplace issues, including what he believed to be the mistreatment of homeless persons by department members, the suit states.
In early 2022, Capelle asked McCart if he had retirement plans, to which the plaintiff replied that he would consider that issue in the future, according to the suit. But in May of that year, Capelle sent McCart a memo stating that if the plaintiff did not retire, Capelle would transfer him to a busier and less desirable post despite the tradition of allowing employees with the most seniority to choose their assignments, the suit states.
McCart subsequently relayed his concerns about coronavirus safety protocol to his supervisor, Assistant Fire Chief Jim Rudroff, as well as City Councilman Tony Wu and City Manager David Carmany, according to the complaint.
Last July, the city notified McCart of a job location and shift change that put him in a much busier station that had more calls and required him to work on most holidays, the suit states.
McCart complained to his superiors and co-workers that Capelle allegedly was trying to force him to retire and renewed his concerns about the coronavirus safety protocol, the suit states.
McCart allegedly was placed on administrative leave and told to attend a fitness-for-duty evaluation. A doctor found him fit, but the city notified the plaintiff in September of its intent to terminate him “based on McCart’s complaints and reports of noncompliance with regulations and unlawful conduct,” the suit states.
The city told McCart that if he did not resign, he would lose his retiree medical benefits, all of which forced the plaintiff to retire in October, the suit states.
McCart has suffered emotional distress and experienced financial losses, the suit states.