After a lengthy deliberation, a jury has awarded over $1 million to former Chula Vista Fire Chief Jim Garcia. The experienced fire chief argued that the city wrongly discriminated against him in two different categories when they ended his employment back in 2015. Garcia argued that both his age and his spinal cord injury played roles in his termination. Furthermore, his neck injury was work-related. Garcia and his attorney, Bradley Gage, effectively argued that the city knew about his medical problems when they terminated him and this was grounds for wrongful firing.
Garcia knew that his recent medical problems were negatively impacting his ability to do his job. He thought that it might be in the best interests of the public for him to leave; however, Garcia was terminated by the city without any notification or cause for his exit.
When Garcia asked the city for an explanation regarding his termination, the city simply told him that his position had been eliminated.
In fact, his position was not eliminated. Furthermore, many new positions were created by Garcia’s departure. Even worse, Garcia was more than qualified to fill many of these positions. According to Garcia’s complaint against the city, many of these positions were filled by significantly younger people who the city could presumably hire for a much lower price. This served as the impetus for Garcia to lodge his formal lawsuit. At the age of 58, Garcia had decades of experience which were certainly valuable to any city. As qualified as any young employee might be, they cannot replace the experience of Garcia, who provides significant benefit to public safety.
During Garcia’s time with the fire department, he received numerous awards and accolades including being recognized as Employee of the Year twice and receiving the Medal of Valor twice. After receiving such awards after a career dedicated to public service, it is understandable that Garcia was shocked by his termination. It appears that the court system was equally shocked as they awarded Garcia a settlement of over $1 million on the grounds of lost wages, both past and future, and damages due to emotional distress. Garcia said that he felt he could have worked another five years if given the opportunity.