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San Diego Fire Rescue Dept. faces discrimination lawsuit

Asian-American firefighter claims his ancestry resulted in mistreatment

Steve Choi, currently employed as a firefighter in San Diego, is suing the city and deputy chief of Emergency Medical Services Criss Brainard for discrimination.

In his complaint, Choi says the department is rife with discrimination. His Asian/Korean ancestry has allegedly prompted some in the department to direct racially charged epithets his way, such as calling him "Bock Choy" and "Hop Sing." The culture of discrimination inside the city's fire department, reads the complaint, has also blocked him from being reinstated as a paramedic following a 2004 incident.

"Nearly a decade ago, Choi was alleged by the Department and, later as a result of this complaint the State, to have acted negligently while performing a difficult procedure during his employment," reads the October 13 complaint. "The State of California determined that no disciplinary action or action against Choi's license was warranted. Nevertheless, the Department withdrew Choi from his position as a Paramedic."

Shortly after the undisclosed incident, Deputy Chief Brainard reassigned Choi from his firefighter/paramedic position after a medical director determined Choi did not possess the necessary skills for the job.

The demotion meant less pay for Choi. Months following the determination, the local firefighters' union filed a grievance on Choi's behalf, asking that he be reinstated and get reimbursed for lost pay.

This from an April 23, 2007 city council report:

The grievance cites a violation of Article 43 of the MOU and denial of Mr. Choi's due process rights. Following a determination by the City's Emergency Medical Services Medical Director of unsatisfactory skills and judgement during critical clinical circumstances, Mr. Choi was reassigned from his fire fighter/paramedic position. Effective December 4, 2004, Mr. Choi stopped receiving paramedic premium pay.

At a May 7, 2007, meeting, city councilmembers rejected Choi's grievance. Now, more than six years later, the firefighter is still trying to make the city right an alleged wrong. He is asking that the department reinstate his paramedic position.

"Choi requested reinstatement through counsel as recently as April 25, 2013, but has been denied that relief. Choi has made several other requests which have simply gone unanswered, which necessitated his decision to engage counsel in this matter."

"The reason Choi has not been reinstated is his Asian/Korean ancestry and a long-standing culture within the Department alienating and ostracizing such individuals. Choi has personally witnessed negative comments made towards himself and, generally, those of Asian/Korean ancestry, in addition to the disparate treatment...by Criss Brainard, Deputy Chief EMS for the Department."

Choi claims that the "department and Brainard have required [him] to 'jump through hoops' in relation to his credentialing not required of other personnel within the department...."

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Steve Choi, currently employed as a firefighter in San Diego, is suing the city and deputy chief of Emergency Medical Services Criss Brainard for discrimination.

In his complaint, Choi says the department is rife with discrimination. His Asian/Korean ancestry has allegedly prompted some in the department to direct racially charged epithets his way, such as calling him "Bock Choy" and "Hop Sing." The culture of discrimination inside the city's fire department, reads the complaint, has also blocked him from being reinstated as a paramedic following a 2004 incident.

"Nearly a decade ago, Choi was alleged by the Department and, later as a result of this complaint the State, to have acted negligently while performing a difficult procedure during his employment," reads the October 13 complaint. "The State of California determined that no disciplinary action or action against Choi's license was warranted. Nevertheless, the Department withdrew Choi from his position as a Paramedic."

Shortly after the undisclosed incident, Deputy Chief Brainard reassigned Choi from his firefighter/paramedic position after a medical director determined Choi did not possess the necessary skills for the job.

The demotion meant less pay for Choi. Months following the determination, the local firefighters' union filed a grievance on Choi's behalf, asking that he be reinstated and get reimbursed for lost pay.

This from an April 23, 2007 city council report:

The grievance cites a violation of Article 43 of the MOU and denial of Mr. Choi's due process rights. Following a determination by the City's Emergency Medical Services Medical Director of unsatisfactory skills and judgement during critical clinical circumstances, Mr. Choi was reassigned from his fire fighter/paramedic position. Effective December 4, 2004, Mr. Choi stopped receiving paramedic premium pay.

At a May 7, 2007, meeting, city councilmembers rejected Choi's grievance. Now, more than six years later, the firefighter is still trying to make the city right an alleged wrong. He is asking that the department reinstate his paramedic position.

"Choi requested reinstatement through counsel as recently as April 25, 2013, but has been denied that relief. Choi has made several other requests which have simply gone unanswered, which necessitated his decision to engage counsel in this matter."

"The reason Choi has not been reinstated is his Asian/Korean ancestry and a long-standing culture within the Department alienating and ostracizing such individuals. Choi has personally witnessed negative comments made towards himself and, generally, those of Asian/Korean ancestry, in addition to the disparate treatment...by Criss Brainard, Deputy Chief EMS for the Department."

Choi claims that the "department and Brainard have required [him] to 'jump through hoops' in relation to his credentialing not required of other personnel within the department...."

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