A Minnesota firefighter claims he was demoted for being gay. He is now suing.
Dan Benson is suing the City of Eagan and his fire chief following his demotion after 18 years of service.
Benson argues his constitutional rights and the Minnesota Human Rights Act were violated with the decision to demote him.
“It’s incredible that in 2017 this type of conduct could occur,” said Paul Applebaum, Benson’s lawyer.
“The worst part of it is the department’s explanation doesn’t square with the letter that the chief handed to Dan Benson when he was demoted.”
Benson was not out during most of his career. But his lawsuit claims that during the reapplication process he was asked an ice breaker question: did he have a spouse or significant other? That’s when he responded that he was married to a man named Greg and that they were hosting two exchange students they “considered their children.”
“When the question was asked about who’s your significant other, I felt that maybe this was building up to something,” said Benson.
Shortly after the interview, Chief Mike Scott informed him that he wasn’t being reappointed as a battalion chief. Instead, Benson was demoted to a regular firefighter, a position four ranks lower than battalion chief. The position also lacked the $8,000 annual stipend he had received.
Scott cited several reasons for Benson’s demotion in a letter, including failure to show up to training sessions and posting videos from an emergency scene online. On the latter, Benson has said he posted that video privately at the request of another fire chief.
“I responded to more calls than any other chief,” responded Benson. “I saved some lives and I put out some fires.”
Last week the city issued a statement in which they claimed that the demotion was due to “reorganization, and ultimately fewer leadership positions”, a statement that seems to contradict Scott’s reasoning for demoting Benson.
Nonetheless, Scott is standing firm on his decision and explanation for it.
“Our decision was based on the interview and past work product—it wasn’t based on anything but that,” said Scott.
“I was shocked that somebody would accuse me of something like this,” he added, citing having a gay family member.
The lawsuit is pending in district court. In the meantime, Benson continues to work at the fire station.