Based on his résumé, it's difficult to imagine that Christian Benard is lazy. He graduated from the University of Southern California and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy before deciding on a career as a firefighter in Newport Beach.
But fire-department officials fired Benard last year, claiming he was lazy and hadn't met minimum standards during his probationary employment period.
In a lawsuit filed this week in Orange County Superior Court, Benard refutes those claims, asserting he was given "outstanding" job-performance evaluations but was fired by high-ranking, caucasian fire-department officials because he complained about their anti-Latino bias.
Those complaints lead to "a campaign of harassment" and a "hostile work environment," Benard--who was born in Nicaragua--alleges in the lawsuit that seeks lost wages and punitive damages.
He was, he says, given crappy assignments, blocked from adequate training and singled out for criticism of mistakes that were also committed by white firefighters.
In one puzzling event, Benard claims that three white supervisors ordered him to hold a heavy water hose emitting a large flow for 75 minutes after a fire had already been extinguished and all other crews had left the scene.
In January 2010, department officials abruptly fired Benard, the lone Latino in the probationary class.
Last May, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing issued Benard a "right to sue" letter based on his claims.
Newport Beach city officials haven't yet filed a response in court, and David Hunt, the city attorney, did not reply to a request for comment.
In 2009, the city lost a $1.2 million lawsuit by Neil Harvey, a veteran police officer who claimed he'd been repeatedly cheated out of promotions because of a conspiracy of higher-ranking officers who considered him gay. Never mind that Harvey is straight, dates women and has a long list of accolades for outstanding public service. According to evidence in the jury trial, homophobic managing cops believed they'd uncovered impressive proof that Harvey bats for the other team: He is meticulous in his job performance and--gasp!--lived in the coastal resort town of Laguna Beach.
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