Former fire chief alleges discrimination and wrongful termination

Former fire chief alleges discrimination and wrongful termination
Former Fire Chief Angel Montoy speaks during an open house at Fire Station #63 on Valley View Road in October. Photo/Linda Hemmila

Former Fire Chief Angel Montoya filed allegations of discrimination and wrongful termination against the City of Richmond on November 28.

Montoya has filed claims citing discrimination based on ethnicity, color, and age, along with a whistleblower violation. He asserts substantial economic damages due to income loss and a damaged reputation, estimating the damages to exceed $750,000.

Montoya parted ways with the city after two years on the job and is described as a 63-year-old Hispanic American in the filing. Details of Montoya’s departure were not made public until this filing.

Fire chief out in Richmond
Richmond’s Fire Chief Angel Montoya is no longer employed in Richmond, according to the president of Firefighters Local 188, and Aaron Osorio has been named Interim Fire Chief. According to Richmond Firefighters Local 188 President Michael Velazques, the union received official word of Montoya’s departure, but no additional information has

The initial complaint filed by Monyoya’s attorney, Steven Haney, said the fire department was disorganized and chaotic and strongly favored firefighters who started their careers with the department.

According to the complaint, Richmond Fire Department command staff conspired and took direction from the fire union, which ultimately pressured Richmond City Manager Shasa Curl to fire Montoya.

“The RFD Command Staff often ignored this requirement and worked in concert with the Union to attempt to bypass Montoya, who was ignored primarily because he was of Hispanic descent, and the fact that he was perceived by some as “old” (63 years old), and joined the RFD in 2021 at age 61, (i.e. the perception that he was an older “outsider”),” the complaint said.

The document details a meeting involving Montoya, the city manager, and the city attorney. They were discussing a document known as a “Side Letter” concerning the overtime staffing selection. Prior to the meeting, the complaint alleges the side letter had been negotiated by several parties, including the human resources director, city attorney, city manager, and the union.

“At this meeting, Montoya was pressured by the City Manager and the City Attorney to sign the Side Letter agreement so they would not have to take it back to the City Council for approval,” the complaint stated. “When Montoya inquired why the Side Letter had been negotiated with the above parties and not the Fire Chief, as written in the MOU, the City Manager stated, “'that’s what we do in this City.'"

The lawsuit alleges the fire union orchestrated a “no confidence” vote in July to instigate Montoya’s departure.

Richmond Firefighters Local 188 vote “no confidence” in Fire Chief
Members of Richmond Firefighters Local 188 have unanimously agreed to a “No Confidence” vote in Fire Chief Angel Montoya’s ability to lead the Richmond Fire Department. In a press release today, Richmond Firefighters Local 188 said, “Chief Montoya’s refusal to address pressing safety issues, unwillingness to meet and

“The RFD then ensured the vote of no confidence was highly publicized, which caused Montoya’s spotless reputation as a professional manager to be badly tarnished, if not destroyed,” the complaint stated. 

In the lawsuit, Montoya further accuses the city manager of acting in tandem with the fire union and some city council members, including Mayor Eduardo Martinez, to hire an outside consultant to prepare a report on the fire department.

“Unfortunately, the retention of the outside consultant turned out to be a “setup” to derogate Montoya, as the consultant wrote a supposedly confidential report that was highly critical and biased towards Montoya,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit claimed the city attorney’s office and human resources director then disclosed the confidential report to various outsiders to fuel the effort to terminate Montoya and “replace him with a younger and, in all likelihood, whiter employee who came up through the ranks.”

Montoya said two city council members and the mayor degraded him for not providing more data during his presentation of an 18-month plan to eliminate mandatory overtime during an October 3 meeting. Montoya said he showed that the city council’s decision to let the fire union break an alternative resolution contract had severe financial ramifications. Alternative dispute resolutions, or ADRs, are processes that help parties reach an agreement without going to court.

“These were obvious facts that the Council Members and Mayor did not want to hear,” the complaint said.

Councilmember Claudia Jimenez called the plan a “half-baked plan or no plan at all” during the October meeting.

“If we don’t have the data, then we cannot have these claims about whether the ADR is working or not. I would love to have that data and the three-year data that I asked for on May 3,” Jimenez said. “Don’t think I am criticizing you, but this is unacceptable. This is unacceptable in terms of a presentation right now where I have personally been asking for a lot of data since May.”

Councilmember Doria Robinson said she was underwhelmed by the report’s contents, which lacked numbers, dates, and a clear pathway to resolve the problem.  

“It seems that the plan is bare bones and doesn’t actually lead to where we are trying to get,” Robinson said. “It is not even mapped over an 18-month period. I would really like to see a revision of this plan with the details that show exactly how we are going to resolve the things that we can control.”

Martinez called the presentation a report, not a plan. “I didn’t see any timelines, I didn’t see any plans for filling in for vacancies that came up with promotions. That would be a plan, knowing how to fill in those vacancies,” he said.

Michael Velazquez, President of Richmond Firefighters Local 188, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The mayor’s chief of staff, Shiva Mishek, previously said they wouldn’t comment on personnel issues. 

Montoya also filed a discrimination complaint with the Civil Rights Department under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Help keep our content free for all!

Click to become a Grandview Supporter here. Grandview is an independent, journalist-run publication exclusively covering Richmond, CA. Copyright © 2023 Grandview Independent, all rights reserved.

Read more