Lawsuit claims Saginaw didn't want a female fire chief - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Lawsuit claims Saginaw didn't want a female fire chief

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SAGINAW (WJRT) -

(02/14/14) - A female member of the Saginaw fire department is suing the city after she was passed over for the acting fire chief's job.

Her attorney says she did that job for a year before it was given to a man.

Ona Lee Aguilar's attorney isn't just critical of the city - he also says the fire department's union didn't want a woman getting the acting chief's job.

"The city didn't want a female fire chief, even though she was completely qualified," said attorney Victor Mastromarco, Jr.

Mastromarco represents Aguilar, who is currently the training and safety officer for the Saginaw Fire Department. Mastromarco says Aguilar became interim chief in February 2012 when Darnell Earley was Saginaw's city manager, and performed those duties until August 2013, when Earley offered her the position of acting fire chief. The city won't confirm this timeline.

Aguilar says Earley planned to announce the appointment at the Aug. 19 city council meeting, but Mastromarco says two days after the offer to Aguilar, Tom Raines, the president of Fire Fighters Local 102, told her she could no longer be a member of the union if she took the job. Mastromarco says Aguilar still wanted the promotion, but city and union officials then agreed to a resolution basing the appointment solely on rank and seniority. Aguilar says that's when a city official told her the announcement at city council was off. Two weeks later, Earley appointed Chris Van Loo as acting chief. The new resolution allows Van Loo to remain in the union while he serves as acting fire chief.

"I'm sure that they talked together and decided, 'How are we going to deal with this, how are we going to explain why we gave the job to the man, instead of the woman, that was qualified and was actually doing the job for a year?" Mastromarco, Jr. said.

Again, the city will not comment on the suit, but in court filings, the lawsuit is described as frivolous. In those documents, the city also argues that Aguilar was never offered the acting chief position and that she wanted to remain in the union, which eliminated her from future consideration for the job. Mastromarco denies those claims, saying this was gender discrimination.

"That's discrimination, it's still there, it's going on all the time," he says.

Aguilar's lawsuit asks for at least $25,000 in economic and non-economic losses.

The firefighters union is not named in the suit.

Union president Tom Raines says he will let it play out in court and does not want to comment.

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