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Calif. firefighter files $5M lawsuit against city, alleging wrongful termination

Vernon Creswell previously won $2.6 million when a jury found he had suffered racial harassment and discrimination at the Montebello Fire Department


Vernon Creswell worked for the Montebello Fire Department since 2008 until he was fired on Jan. 5, 2021.

Image/Montebello Fire Department

Mike Sprague
The Whittier Daily News

MONTEBELLO, Calif. — A Montebello firefighter, who won $2.6 million from the city when a jury in July 2015 found he had suffered racial harassment and discrimination while working for the department, has filed a more than $5 million federal whistleblower wrongful termination lawsuit.

Vernon Creswell, who is African-American, had worked for the Montebello Fire Department since 2008 until he was fired on Jan. 5, 2021.

Creswell also has two lawsuits against the city — one for retaliation and a second for whistleblower complaints of race discrimination and related issues — pending in Los Angeles Superior Court.

This latest lawsuit claims Creswell was unlawfully fired by the city in retaliation for his whistleblower complaints of race discrimination, and other accusations of illegal activity, by the Montebello Fire Department.

” Mr. Creswell wants his job back,” Lincoln Ellis, his attorney, said in a Thursday, June 2 telephone interview.

“He’s a great fire captain,” Ellis said. “He loves his job. He loves working with the public. Fortunately, this cause of action allows for a judge to issue an injunction ordering he be reinstated.”

Michael Chee in a Thursday text said the city is not commenting.

“The city was just served on June 1 and the case is in review with the city attorney,” Chee wrote. “No comment until we can assess the claim.”

One of the issues in the lawsuit is the city’s refusal to provide a hearing for Creswell, Ellis said.

The city should have been given him a hearing on his termination 16 months ago and still have not given him one, he said

“They’re dragging their feet,” Ellis said.

In the lawsuit, Ellis said the city’s ordinance (Section 2.60.220(C)) requires a hearing within 20 days.

The lawsuit also alleges the city retaliated against Creswell for his whistleblower complaint in September 2020.

“It’s time for the Montebello City Council or the California attorney general to look into a pattern of discrimination and retaliation, and other misconduct within the Montebello Fire Department that is perpetuated by the department leadership,” Creswell wrote.

In the complaint, Ellis said his client sued Montebello in 2013 “after a series of incidents, the worst of which included being called the “N-word”, “Compton Gang Banger” and “Mush Mouth,” a character from the television show " Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.”

He sued the city again for retaliation in 2017, after he applied for promotion to battalion chief and was denied.

“Some of the department leadership made remarks such as ‘If promoted to battalion chief, I would destroy the organization’ and ‘minorities always cheat on exams,’ indicating that they would never give me a fair chance at the promotion because of my prior complaints of race discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” Creswell said in 2020 lawsuit.

Ellis also alleged that Montebello Fire Department leadership ordered an employee to take a city vehicle out of the city to pick up expensive watches (for leaders’ personal use while on duty.

On another occasion, Montebello Fire Department leadership ordered a fire engine while on duty to go out of the city limits and into East Los Angeles to attend a birthday parade, Creswell wrote.


(c)2022 The Whittier Daily News, Calif.

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