Fire academy chief fired in scandal loses bid for job

By Jon Ortiz
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A high-ranking Cal Fire Academy official fired during a drinking-and-sex scandal that roiled the department has lost his appeal to return to work.

Lawyers representing former Assistant Chief Mike Ramirez says he is now prepared seek a rehearing by the State Personnel Board or take the case to civil court.

"An appeal is likely," said Ramirez attorney Jason Jasmine.

Cal Fire spokesman Janet Upton said the department is "pleased" the board upheld the termination.

"The decision sends a strong message that Cal Fire employees are held to a high standard of conduct," she said, "and we will not tolerate this type of unprofessional behavior."

Ramirez argued for his reinstatement, claiming that his termination in January was based on honest misunderstandings, false allegations or overstatements. Some of the charges against him, his attorneys attempted to show, are the kind of behavior officials at the highest levels of Cal Fire routinely have ignored for years.

Administrative Law Judge Amy Friedman, who presided over a six days of testimony at a reinstatement hearing in July, was not convinced.

In a written decision affirmed by the five-member State Personnel Board this month, she concluded that Cal Fire proved Ramirez allowed Academy cadets to drink alcohol while on duty at a graduation dinner, failed to respond to an instance of employee sexual harassment and another case of workplace violence, misused a state vehicle, disobeyed orders and answered interrogators' questions dishonestly.

"(Cal Fire) should not be required to retain an untrustworthy employee," Friedman wrote in her 42-page ruling. particularly when employees "are entrusted with dangerous tasks and are not contained in an easy-to-monitor office environment."

As a manager at the Cal Fire Academy in Ione, Ramirez was the highest ranking of 15 Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters who lost their jobs or their rank after a state probe described a frat-house atmosphere where employees stored, displayed and shared inappropriate photos and Web links on state phones; subjected women to sexual harassment and sexual assault; sent and received texts with answers to promotional interview questions; used state property to hook up with prostitutes and drank alcohol on state time in local bars and on Academy grounds.

Ramirez said he was scapegoated with false and overblown allegations intended to deflect public attention from deeper cultural deficiencies in the department. He suggested that Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott and others in department headquarters ignored drinking among cadets and that some department brass consumed alcohol while in uniform after a funeral.

Attorneys representing Ramirez tried to force Pimlott to testify. Friedman, however, struck him from their witness list after the director filed a declaration that he had no "knowledge of alcoholic beverages being consumed" by on-duty employees at academy functions during his tenure as an academy administrator.

Ramirez has until mid-January to ask the State Personnel Board to re-hear his case or to file a lawsuit against Cal Fire in superior court.

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(c)2015 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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