Sauter, city target of lawsuit

DOWNEY - A harassment and discrimination lawsuit has been filed against the City of Downey and former Fire Chief Mark Sauter by current Downey Fire Department Fire Marshal Darren Moon.Moon, who is a homosexual, alleges that Sauter denied him eligibility for promotion and reduced his duties as fire marshal because of his sexual orientation. "My work environment was not pleasant at all," Moon said. "Prior to him finding out (that I am gay), we had a good relationship. He never said anything to me, but the silent treatment spoke volumes." Moon, 49, has worked for the Downey Fire Department for more than 20 years. Married to a woman for 19 years, Moon divorced six years ago and has been living with a male partner for more than 5 years. Moon said that he tried to keep his personal relationship with his male partner a secret from Sauter, but not from the other fire department employees. "I didn't tell him because I knew he would react the way he did," Moon said. The lawsuit contains allegations from Moon that he was treated in a demeaning manner by Sauter, and that the City of Downey failed to resolve his harassment and discrimination complaints against the fire chief. During 2008, the City of Downey hired an investigation firm to look into Moon's complaints which resulted in no administrative action taken against Sauter. "They determined there was no wrongdoing - only lack of communication between departments," Moon said. The investigation included looking into other complaints from Moon to the city's personnel office alleging Sauter retaliated against him for filing the grievances. "My job as deputy fire marshal used to interact with the fire chief on a daily basis. That was all of a sudden cut off and I could not make any decisions at all," Moon said. "I was working in a hostile environment so I went to human resources and spoke to the director. She wanted a meeting with Sauter and me, but I wasn't allowed union representation so I refused the meeting and filed a formal complaint instead." The complaint for damages filed by Moon's attorney Richard Jorgensen on Jan. 5, 2009 states that up until October 2006, "Sauter was unaware" of Moon's sexual orientation and "maintained a cooperative and positive working relationship" with Moon, all along expressing to him "that he possessed qualities and characteristics which made him very promotable." Moon's attorney has submitted a settlement offer to the City of Downey for $650,000 which the city has not yet responded to. Both Sauter and City Manager Gerald Caton declined to comment on the lawsuit. A hearing date has not yet been set for the lawsuit that was filed with the Superior Court for the State of California County of Los Angeles. On Dec. 15, 2008, Sauter began a newly-appointed position as Deputy City Manager/Public Emergency Operations Chief for the City of Downey and no longer serves as fire chief. ********** Published: January 9, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 38