Board of Supervisors’ lack of knowledge in county affairs part of the ‘culture,’ attorney says

By Matthew Cabe
Staff Writer
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Posted: Apr. 13, 2016 at 5:48 PM
Updated: April 14, 2016 at 8:43 AM

SAN BERNARDINO — A jury voted 11-1 Monday to award a former San Bernardino County Fire Department division chief more than $700,000 in damages related to an age discrimination case against the county and its fire department, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys.

George Corley, 62, was awarded $544,000 for past lost earnings and $160,000 for future loss earnings, court documents show.

The nearly unanimous verdict came almost four years after Corley’s attorney, Redlands-based Sandra Noel, filed a complaint with the Superior Court of San Bernardino that alleged Corley was wrongfully terminated in February 2012 by San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig.

Hartwig cited an “incompatibility of management style” for his decision to fire Corley — then 58 — whose termination came after 38 years in the fire service, according to the complaint.

Noel contended in the complaint, however, that Corley’s termination came following Hartwig’s 2011 decision — without approval from the Board of Supervisors — to relax “the minimum requirements to compete for the Division Chief position” to allow younger, less experienced and lower-paid personnel to apply for the position.

She told the Daily Press that Hartwig’s not getting board approval prior to making his decision is part of a systemic problem within the county.

“I think that’s just sort of the culture in San Bernardino County,” Noel said. “There’s a lot of things that go on without the board knowing it.”

The Daily Press’ attempts to reach Hartwig, the county’s attorney Arthur Preciado and county CEO Greg Devereaux — who testified during the month-long trial — were unsuccessful; San Bernardino County Spokesman David Wert told the Daily Press the county would not comment “until after the judge (John Pacheco) is done with the case.”

In May 2011, according to Noel’s complaint, Hartwig was selected and appointed County Fire Chief by Devereaux, a move supported by then Fire Captain and Union President Bret Henry “in exchange for the Union agreeing to reduce non-exempt department firefighting employment by 7 (percent) as demanded by … Devereaux.”

The complaint added that Henry agreed to the 7-percent reduction, as well as a reduction in salaries in exchange for promotions “to very high level positions” for Henry and then Fire Captain and Union Vice President Don Trapp “without having to satisfy the required experience necessary to compete for the Division Chief position.”

Henry could not be reached for comment, but a post on his Facebook page showed that he served as a witness on Corley’s behalf during the trial.

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