Ousted Sacramento chief seeks $10M for alleged wrongful termination

Gary Loesch says officials exposed him to COVID-19 after he appealed a disciplinary pay cut linked to a retaliation complaint and his pimp costume


Theresa Clift
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO — Former Sacramento Fire Chief Gary Loesch on Tuesday filed a claim against the city signaling he’s preparing to sue over his termination and alleging top officials deliberately exposed him to COVID-19 after he appealed a disciplinary pay cut.

Loesch’s attorney, Eric Lindstrom, wrote that he is seeking $10 million in damages.

Former Sacramento Fire Chief Gary Loesch served in the position since 2018.
Former Sacramento Fire Chief Gary Loesch served in the position since 2018. (Photo/Sacramento Fire Department)

City Manager Howard Chan last week fired Loesch from his position leading the Fire Department, a post Loesch had held since 2018.

The claim alleges Loesch’s firing stems in part from Chan’s attempt to discipline the fire chief over two incidents:

  • a 2019 Halloween party that Loesch attended in a pimp costume
  • and, an employee’s workplace retaliation complaint.

The letter said Chan in January 2020 attempted to dock Loesch’s pay over those incidents. Loesch challenged the discipline in administrative court, where an administrative law judge in April sided with Loesch.

“Before the hearing, the city manager told Chief Loesch the evidence was against him and he should just ‘take his lumps and let’s move on,’” the claim said. “During the hearing, the city manager admitted, ‘the fact that we’re here today is very distasteful to me ... it is very, very frustrating for me to be here today.’”

The city declined to comment on the claim because the city does not comment on personnel matters, city spokesman Tim Swanson said in an email.

Loesch as fire chief was a member of the city’s executive team, meaning he was an at-will employee who generally could be terminated at the city manager’s discretion.

But California law gives special employment protection to firefighters, including department chiefs. As a result, the city was obligated to list reasons for Loesch’s dismissal.

Loesch’s one-page termination notice, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, cites: “Incompatibility of management style with the City Manager; failure to implement the mission, objectives, goals, and policies of the City of Sacramento and the City Manager; failure to foster a homogeneous and inclusive work environment and culture within the Fire Department; and failure to properly address the investigation and implementation of discipline for city employees.”

Lindstrom alleged Loesch’s firing was linked to the administrative judge siding with Loesch.

“Any ‘incompatibility’ issues were apparently not sufficient to warrant termination until the City Manager was embarrassed and angry at losing the administrative hearing over whether the City Manager had cause to discipline Chief Loesch.

Loesch also claims Chan tried to expose him to COVID-19 during the meeting where Chan dismissed Loesch.

On Thursday, Loesch was scheduled to meet with Assistant City Manager Leyne Milstein in her office to discuss department issues, the claim said.

Upon arriving, he saw Milstein wearing a face mask. He asked her whether he should go to his vehicle to get his mask, and she said he did not need one. Chan then followed him into the office, wearing a mask, the claim said.

“Standing very close to Chief Loesch, the city manager explained he would not be removing his mask because he had COVID-19,” the claim said. “This shocked Chief Loesch given the exchange he had just had with Ms. Milstein.”

The letter does not say when Chan contracted COVID-19 or whether Chan was believed to be contagious.

Chan fired Loesch, then left, and Loesch also left, the claim said. After that, the department’s deputy chiefs came in to Milstein’s office, and Milstein’s assistant handed them N-95 masks, the claim said.

The city hired Loesch from the Philadelphia fire department in fall 2018. Loesch has been a firefighter for 36 years, is one of only 160 people in the country to have graduated from the Fire Service Executive Development Institute, the claim said.

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©2022 The Sacramento Bee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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