Eagan Firefighter Sues Chief, City Saying He was Demoted Because He's Gay

April 27, 2017 10:18 PM

A veteran firefighter says he was demoted because of his sexual orientation.

Now Dan Benson is suing his old fire chief and the city of Eagan for discrimination.

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He was a battalion chief for the Eagan Fire Department, considered a leadership role. But he said he lost that position because he is gay.

RELATED: Eagan Firefighter Sues Chief for Discrimination

"I worked really hard to get to that position, never had a bad review, and then 'yeah you're done,'" Benson said. 

"When you put the pieces together, it's obvious."

He is suing for $50,000 in damages.  The city plans to fight the lawsuit, releasing this statement:

"In early April the City of Eagan and its fire chief were sued by a paid-on-call firefighter who was formerly a battalion chief. The suit alleges discrimination based on sexual orientation in his not being re-appointed as a battalion chief. The City disputes any such allegation and reaffirms that it is an equal opportunity employer.

"While the City of Eagan is restricted in what it can say about personnel and legal matters, common sense dictates that, there are at least two sides to every story. Unfortunately the City's perspective was all but eliminated in the first media reports regarding the allegations. Eagan denies any discrimination occurred in the appointment of battalion chiefs.

"The Eagan Fire Department, with the support of City Administration, has consolidated from six fire stations to three modern fire facilities in strategic locations to best serve the public. Those changes meant a reorganization and ultimately fewer leadership positions. 

"In early 2016, Fire Department leadership, in consultation with the City, agreed that all members of the fire department could apply for the new and restructured positions in an open appointment process. 

"The City of Eagan plans to defend against the lawsuit because it believes that it engaged in a proper process and it, again, denies any discrimination. The firefighter remains an active member of the Eagan Fire Department in his paid-on-call capacity."

Last year, the city said it consolidated from six to three facilities to better serve the community. But in his lawsuit, Benson alleges firefighters were informed they would all have to re-apply for their positions, and that he was asked whether he had a spouse or significant other.

"When the question was asked about who's your significant other, I felt that maybe this was building up to something," he said. 

Benson said he was essentially "outed against his will," then demoted by Fire Chief Michael Scott to an entry-level position.

"He stated 'I'm going to give you 30 days to think about it, but I can't imagine you'd want to come back,'" Benson said. 

"That's clearly preposterous given his experience and his skill level," added Paul Applebaum, Benson's lawyer. 

But the fire chief and city deny the accusations, saying this process "meant a reorganization and ultimately fewer leadership positions."

Benson disagrees.

"They did not eliminate the position, they put someone else in it," he said. 

Chief Scott said the process was fair.

"Dan Benson and other members of leadership decided that it would be most fair to have an open hiring process," Scott said in a statement.

Benson believes it's important to stand up for what he believes in.

"I have a devotion still to the department," he said. 

Credits

Brett Hoffland

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