Alabama Chief Sues For Constructive Termination, Retaliation, and Denial of Benefits

The former fire chief in Selma, Alabama, has filed suit against the city claiming Mayor Darrio Melton forced him to resign last spring and then refused to pay him for his accrued vacation, sick leave and comp time.

Fire Chief Toney D. Stephens claims that Mayor Melton made his working conditions so intolerable that he was left with no alternative but to resign in April, 2019. Chief Stephens alleges Mayor Melton acted deliberately in an effort to retaliate against him because of his protected political activities.

The suit was filed in Dallas County Circuit Court on October 1, 2019. It names the city and Mayor Melton as defendants. The complaint alleges two counts under state law, one for non-payment of his accrued benefits, the other alleging wrongful/constructive termination and retaliation in violation of Alabama statutes and the state constitution that protect political activities.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • Plaintiff, both individually and as Chief of the Selma Fire Department, participated and engaged in political activities, and addressed and supported issues of public welfare in the public and before the Selma City Council, as specifically permitted by Ala. Code (1975) §17-1-4, and the Constitution of Alabama (1901) Section 4.
  • After participating in the City of Selma’s political activities, and after speaking in public before the City of Selma’s City Council regarding issues including, but not limited to, the needs of the City’s Fire Department and the public welfare of the City, Mayor Darrio Melton immediately took retaliatory action against the Plaintiff and deliberately caused Plaintiff’s working conditions to become so intolerable that Stephens was forced to resign.
  • Defendant Mayor Darrio Melton’s unlawful retaliation taken against the Plaintiff, and forcing the Plaintiff to resign, amounted to the Plaintiffs constructive discharge by Defendant Melton. Defendant Melton is liable for his unlawful actions prohibited by Ala. Code (1975) § 17-1-4, and Section 4 of the Constitution of Alabama (1901).
  • The Constitution of Alabama (1901), Section 13, makes courts open to provide adequate remedies for all injuries suffered to an individual’s lands, goods, person, or reputation. As the direct and proximate result of Defendant Melton’s unlawful actions, Plaintiff has incurred , and is currently incurring, damages to his person and reputation in an amount to be proved at trial.

The complaint makes no federal claims, so the case will remain in state court. Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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