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Palm Beach Fire Chief Sues Over Web Site Firing

The fire chief of Palm Beach, Florida who was fired on January 26, 2011,  has filed suit against the Town and the Town Manager who fired him. Chief William Amador is suing Town of Palm Beach and Town Manager Peter Elwell, alleging wrongful termination and a violation of his due process rights.

According to news reports, Elwell fired Chief Amador for his involvement in the “construction and maintenance” of a web site, www.palmbeachpensions.com, that supported the protection of pensions for public safety employees.  The union has since claimed responsibility for the web site and denied any involvement  of the chief. The web site is still active.

Elwell’s memo terminating the chief said: “You have failed to act professionally and honor the obligations of your role in the collective bargaining process. … Instead you have acted in your own self interest through your involvement in the www.palmbeachpensions.com website which promulgates a position that is to your own direct personal financial benefit with respect to the town’s pension plan.”

Because Chief Amador was an “at will” employee, he was not entitled to challenge the firing through any sort of grievance or civil service proceeding. One of the allegations in the lawsuit is that the town failed to provide the chief with written and timely notice that he was being investigated. Florida is one of the few states that has a Firefighters’ Bill of Rights.

According to a 1989 Attorney General’s opinion,  the Florida Firefighters Bill of Rights (Florida Statutes  Chapter 112, Section 112.80 to 112.84) applies to “at will” fire chiefs such as Chief Amador. The Bill of Rights contains a requirement that firefighters be given “written notice of sufficient detail of the investigation in order to reasonably apprise the firefighter of the nature of the investigation” prior to being interrogated.

The problem is that Chief Amador was not interrogated, he was summarily fired without the opportunity to present his side of the case.  The Bill of Rights does not seem to have anticipated a situation where a firefighter would be summarily terminated without having the opportunity to answer questions about what happened. A very important lesson learned if you are drafting Bill of Rights legislation for your state! Take a look at how all of the rights contained in the Florida Firefighters’ Bill of Rights are contingent on an interrogation.

Here is a video on the firing.

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