A one-time deputy fire chief who says he asked for a less-demanding position temporarily has sued the city of Portland — saying he never would have accepted the voluntary demotion if he hadn't been promised his old job back.
Lawyers for current Portland Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Dan Buckner filed the contract complaint in Multnomah County Circuit Court on April 23; the litigation seeks $630,000 in damages and Buckner's reinstatement as one of the bureau's deputy chiefs.
"Bringing this action was a last resort, as Battalion Chief Buckner tried to resolve things internally but was rebuffed at every turn," said attorney Christopher Lundberg. "His integrity — and his belief in accountability — would not allow him to stand idly by and quietly suffer ongoing retaliatory mistreatment."
According to the suit, Buckner, a Sherwood resident and 25-year veteran of the bureau, rose steadily up the ranks from firefighter paramedic to battalion chief, and was subsequently promoted to deputy chief in 2016.
A year later, Buckner asked for and received a transfer back down to the battalion level — citing the need to care for a family member's medical issues — and based on a promise from then-Division Chief Tom Williams that he could return to his old job when the family obligations were resolved, the suit claims.
"There is not statute, charter provision, ordinance, administrative rule, or public record that puts then-Division Chief Tom Williams' promise beyond his authority," according to the 10-page suit.
Buckner's relationship with his new boss, Emergency Operations Deputy Chief Vince Wilson, quickly soured. The battalion chief claims Wilson unfairly burdened him with more tasks than other employees, and the suit says Buckner ended up serving as a witness in a hostile workplace complaint filed internally by a fire lieutenant after Wilson allegedly told Buckner to "stomp Lt. Ripley's guts out."
Wilson allegedly placed Buckner on an improvement plan that was later rescinded, and Wilson then wrote Buckner up for disobedience and discourteous treatment violations that were later dismissed by HR investigators, the suit claims. Buckner later filed his own HR complaint against Wilson, per the litigation.
Eventually, Buckner was assigned to a different work schedule that separated him from Wilson.
"Buckner resisted the transfer because it was professionally embarrassing because it was nothing more than a power play and brought all the issues into the public view among Portland Fire and Rescue command staff and personnel," the suit says.
Buckner has applied for several vacant deputy chief positions but never landed a job, the suit says. Fire Chief Sara Boone told Buckner "she would not be held to agreements from prior leadership," the suit alleges. Williams, the former division chief, left the fire bureau last year and now works as the Spokane Fire Department's assistant chief, according to his online resume.
City Attorney Robert Taylor declined to comment on a matter pending in court. Buckner remains a city employee at this time.
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