A female fire officer has filed a lawsuit against her volunteer fire department, claiming that she was demoted from her officer's position due to her status as a mother. She said her fire chief told her she needed to prioritize time with her six year old son, while two men with young children were subsequently promoted.
Source: pennlive.com, September 12, 2017
Honorable and Faithful
A fire captain with more than 30 years on the job had a commendable service record as a firefighter, but was also a person who had harassed a number of women on the job. Although the harassment was not formally reported until late in the officer's career, the behavior was widely known as it often occurred with witnesses present, and had led at least one female officer to refuse to work in his station. When formal charges were finally filed, the captain at first denied most of the 21 complaints made against him, but later admitted to the majority of accusations, explaining himself by saying he was a "dinosaur" who had trouble keeping up with changing times. He asked to be allowed to retire.
The fire department did not accept this request, and followed through with termination. As a result of being terminated for cause, the captain at first lost part, and then all, of his pension benefits. The logic used in this decision was that pension benefits were awarded for "honorable and faithful service" and the captain had violated these terms with his conduct.
On the one hand, it is tempting to cheer this decision. This captain's bad behavior was egregious and persistent and he was in a position of power and authority. His conduct was harmful enough to the women directly affected by it, but he also set a toxic example for everyone he worked with, influencing the culture of the organization.
But on the other hand, who gets to decide what constitutes a breach of honorable and faithful service? The court decision goes to great lengths, mostly citing a precedent case of a police officer who regularly used cocaine off duty. The court wrote, "In our view, these plain English terms are understandable to a person of ordinary intelligence.”
I'm not sure I agree. If using cocaine is an obvious disqualifier, what about marijuana? What if it's legal, just not permitted by the organization? The court talks about an offense resulting in a $10 fine obviously not rising to the disqualifying standard. But what about $100 fine? Or a thousand?
And what about all the people who knew exactly what was going on over the years, and did nothing? What about their honorable and faithful service?
In no way do I excuse this captain, and I feel he deserves the consequences of his actions. But I am not sure it serves justice for him to stand alone on this.
Source: THEODORE PRIESTER, JR. v. BOARD OF APPEALS OF BALTIMORE COUNTY Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-C-15-012485
© Linda F. Willing, 2017