Alleges discrimination in demotion
A former battalion chief with the Eagan Fire Department has filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Eagan and Fire Chief Michael Scott because he feels he was demoted due to his sexual orientation.
Daniel Lowell Benson, who is a paid-on-call firefighter within the department, alleges his demotion came after he revealed he was gay following a department reorganization last year, according to documents filed April 6 in U.S. District Court.
The city, which had 20 days to respond to the suit, filed a response April 26 and released a statement April 27 saying that it is restricted to what it can say about personnel and legal matters, but there are two sides to the story.
It stated city staff and fire department leadership agreed all members of the fire department could reapply for new and restructured positions in an open appointment process in 2016.
In the statement, the city said the Fire Department has consolidated from six fire stations to three. With the reorganization, the city needed fewer leadership positions.
The city disputes the allegation and said that it’s an equal opportunity employer. The city plans to defend itself in the lawsuit because it “believes 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.”
The city said in its response to the lawsuit in court that the highest scoring applicant was appointed to the position of batallion chief.
The city also said that Benson could have but did not apply for other positions of rank during the process.
Benson, who says he became an Eagan firefighter 18 years ago, alleges in the complaint that he indicated he was married to a man during the November 2016 interview process when he was asked by Scott if he had a spouse or a significant other.
Benson says he told Scott he was married to a man and they were the fathers to a son.
At the time, Benson had held the position of battalion chief, which earns pay through a monthly stipend, call response and training, for several years, according to the complaint.
After the process, the lawsuit says Benson was not reappointed battalion chief and was asked on Sept. 28 to remain on the department as an on-call firefighter, several levels below that of battalion chief.
The lawsuit alleges that no other “ranks” in the department were similarly demoted and that the battalion chief position was filled by someone less qualified.
He indicated in the complaint that he kept his sexual orientation private within in the fire department, saying he did not remember telling anyone in the department he was gay or that he was married to another man.
The lawsuit claims the reapplication process was a “ruse” and that it “outed” him against his will.
The lawsuit said the demotion has caused Benson to suffer embarrassment, humiliation and mental and emotional anguish and it will cause Benson to suffer lost pay and benefits, the complaint said.
Benson is asking for $50,000 and punitive damages.
The Eagan Fire Department is nearing the end of a three-year reorganization and consolidation project that included the closing of three stations, the renovating of another and the construction new station scheduled to open in June.
The reduction in stations was done to make the department more efficient, according to the city. One reason for the consolidation was due to stations being understaffed.
The department lost 148 firefighters from 2003 to 2014, according to a Sun Thisweek report in 2014.
The department created a paid-on-call duty crew a few years ago.