Charlotte Captains Claim Chief Wrongly Blocked Their Promotions

Two Charlotte Fire Department captains have filed suit claiming the former fire chief illegally terminated a promotional list for battalion chief, and in the process wrongfully denied them promotions.

Captains Michael Clumpner and Jeffrey Matthews filed suit last week in Mecklenburg County Superior Court naming the City of Charlotte as the sole defendant. The suit alleges that the Charlotte Fire Department failed to follow City ordinances, City policies, and the Charlotte Civil Service Act pertaining to the promotional process, resulting in them being bypassed.

The captains were the last two remaining candidates on a promotional list that was scheduled to run from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. According to the complaint, former Fire Chief Jon Hansen terminated the list on December 21, 2016 falsely stating “the list of candidates recommended by the deputy chiefs has now been exhausted” when Captains Clumpner and Matthews remained on it. At the time there were openings for battalion chiefs due to recent chief officer retirements.

The captains filed grievances with the city, which were promptly denied. They then filed appeals with the Charlotte Civil Service Board, who refused to consider their claims. The suit alleges the captains exhausted their administrative remedies and had no other option but to sue.

The complaint has a single count, alleging a violation due process and equal protection under the North Carolina Constitution. The captains are seeking a court compelling their promotions along with back pay, retroactive seniority, interest, costs and attorneys fees.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Clumpner et al v City of Charlotte

Here are some of the highlights from the complaint:

  • Both Captain Clumpner and Captain Matthews participated in the promotional process, completing both the written test and the assessment center.
  • In early May, 2016, both Captain Clumpner and Captain Matthews received written notifications that they had scored well above the cut-off score required for eligibility to be promoted, on both the written test and the assessment center or operations exercise.
  • Following completion of the written test and the assessment center, each of the candidates that had scored high enough on the exams to be eligible for promotion to Battalion Chief, were apparently interviewed by a panel of the Deputy Chiefs. Both Captain Clumpner and Captain Matthews participated in such interviews.
  • Neither Plaintiff received written notification of the results of the Deputy Chief interview. However, both Captain Clumpner and Captain Mathews were called to a meeting with Deputy Chief of Operations Howard Key, after they had participated in the Deputy Chief interview, and were both informed that they had successfully completed all aspects of the Battalion Chiefs promotional process and were in the pool of eligible Battalion Chief candidates.
  • Beginning in July, 2016, both Captain Clumpner and Captain Matthews were authorized to serve as acting Battalion Chiefs when there was a need.
  • Beginning in or about July, 2016, both Captain Clumpner and Captain Matthews began regularly serving in the capacity as acting Battalion Chiefs, and have each served approximately 900 hours in that capacity.
  • A number of promotions to Battalion Chief were made from the eligibility list over the last six months of 2016.
  • In December, 2016, due to additional retirements of Chiefs from the Fire Department, several Battalion Chief positions became available. As of that time Captain Clumpner and Captain Matthews were about the only employees remaining on the Battalion Chief promotional eligibility list.
  • Instead of being promoted into the vacant Battalion Chief positions from the eligibility list that was to remain in effect through June 30, 2017, on December 21, 2016, Fire Chief Jon B. Hannan sent Captain Clumpner and Captain Matthews letters informing them that he was terminating the 2016-2017 promotional list and they would not be promoted.
  • Chief Hannan’s representation in the two letters attached as Exhibits Band C that “the list of candidates recommended by the deputy chiefs has now been exhausted”, which implies that neither Captain Clumpner nor Captain Matthews successfully completed the Deputy Chief interview, is false and inaccurate.
  • Chief Hannan’s December, 2016 action in removing both Plaintiffs from a promotional list and terminating that list, violated the City Council’s February 5, 1973 resolution.
  • Section 6 sub-paragraph 4 of that Resolution gives authority to remove eligible candidates on the promotional list, solely to the Personnel Director, and specifies the particular situations where such removal would be appropriate.
  • None of the situations allowing for the removal of eligible candidates from a promotional list apply to either of the Plaintiffs, at the time that Chief Hannan removed them from the Battalion Chief eligibility list.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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