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Former Cambria fire chief sues community services district for wrongful termination

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Cambria's former fire chief, Justin Vincent, filed a complaint and request for jury trial against the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) due to what he alleges was an unfair termination of his contract.

"As a proximate result of defendant CCSD's breach of the employment agreement, [the] plaintiff has been substantially harmed," the filing reads. "Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer losses in earning and other benefits in an amount to be established at trial."

CONTENTIOUS COMPLAINT Former Cambria Fire Chief, Justin Vincent, filed a lawsuit against the Cambria CSD alleging unfair termination of this contract. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CAMBRIA FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Cambria Fire Department
  • CONTENTIOUS COMPLAINT Former Cambria Fire Chief, Justin Vincent, filed a lawsuit against the Cambria CSD alleging unfair termination of this contract.

In the lawsuit, Vincent claims that he was the victim of retaliatory practices, racism, and lack of due process when he was fired in October of last year.

In a press release the CCSD issued at the time, then new General Manager Matthew McElhenie said that Vincent had been let go following "the general manager's comprehensive review and careful consideration" but did not elaborate, citing laws and guidelines related to employee termination.

McElhenie declined to speak with New Times about the lawsuit.

The complaint cites multiple instances where McElhenie, Administrative Assistant Haley Dodson, and 10 unnamed individuals allegedly retaliated against him after he spoke up about what he alleges was a misuse of power by Dodson last spring.

"Plaintiff began to regularly observe Dodson engage in severe or pervasive sexual harassment, including but not limited to lewd and sexually offensive comments and jokes," the complaint reads.

The lawsuit states that in addition to observing these behaviors, multiple firefighters approached Vincent with complaints about similar comments or instances. CCSD staff members, the lawsuit claims, told Vincent they feared submitting formal complaints due to Dodson's role at the time as head of human resources.

"On April 10, 2023, after multiple complaints were reported to him ... plaintiff, in his capacity as fire chief, filed a formal grievance against Dodson," the lawsuit states, adding that the grievance included claims that Dodson created a hostile work environment, spoke about firefighters in a lewd manner, and sent multiple unwanted sexually explicit messages to one firefighter.

The suit also alleges that Vincent was concerned that the district might retaliate against his complaints as McElhenie was brought in as the district's new general manager at Dodson's behest.

Dodson did not respond to New Times' request for comment.

Several months after McElhenie was brought on, the lawsuit states, nothing had come of Vincent's complaint. However, Vincent alleges that he received a notice of intent to terminate his contract from McEhlenie that included false accusations such as Vincent turning Fire Department staff against district staff and undermining the general manager's decisions.

Shortly thereafter, the lawsuit states, McElhenie placed Vincent on administrative leave and then fired him in October.

The Cambria CSD held a special closed-session meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, to discuss the lawsuit and future actions. Δ

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