Firefighter sues Austin, fire chief, alleging employment discrimination

 A former Travis County firefighter who sought employment with the Austin Fire Department is now suing the city of Austin and Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, arguing that he wasn’t hired because of his role in negotiations to expand AFD’s jurisdiction.

Andrew Garcia, the former union president for the Travis County Emergency Services District 4, claims in his lawsuit he was discriminated against because of his input in Austin City Council discussions regarding a possible merger between ESD 4 and the Austin Fire Department. 

Officials with the Austin Fire Department said they are aware of the lawsuit, but it is the department’s practice not to comment on litigation.

Over the last few years, the city of Austin had annexed parts of ESD 4’s jurisdiction, “limiting ESD 4’s response area as well as its funding,” the lawsuit says. For this reason, Garcia reached out to Bob Nicks — the Austin fire union president — to explore the possibility of the merger.

AFD and ESD 4 began to negotiate a merger agreement, but AFD became frustrated when Garcia wanted to seek the input of the ESD 4 union’s membership before the plan was presented to council, the lawsuit alleges. Austin fire officials ultimately presented the plan without the union’s input.

Once the merger was finished, every firefighter in ESD 4 had to reapply for their job to become part of AFD. But Garcia’s application process was complicated by the fact that he was kicked out of his first District 4 cadet class when a fellow classmate attacked him in class, his lawsuit says. 

He explained this to Austin fire officials, who investigated the matter, and later received an acceptance letter into the training academy, the suit says. But less than a week later, "Garcia received a letter signed by AFD Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr stating that he had been disqualified from the hiring process because of his failure to pass a background check,” the suit says.

“As a result of Garcia’s public participation in his capacity as principal (union leader) in the merger negotiations ... defendant Chief Kerr engaged in ... decisions aimed at denying Garcia the rights and privileges granted under law, including but not limited to retaliating against, disqualifying and refusing to hire Garcia as a firefighter,” the suit alleges.

Garcia is seeking monetary damages, back pay and is asking a judge to rescind his disqualification from the merger training academy.

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