Can a Union Waive A Firefighter’s Right To Appeal Discipline?

Today’s burning question: Can a union agree to waive a firefighter’s right to appeal as part of reaching a settlement of disciplinary charges against the firefighter? Doesn’t that deny the firefighter’s right to due process?

Answer: Yes the union can and no it does not violate due process!

That was the holding of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today in a case involving Spokane, Washington firefighter Don Waller. Waller was facing discipline for workplace misconduct. Spokane Firefighters IAFF Local 29 represented him.

As explained in the decision:

  • After another fire department employee filed a complaint with human resources alleging workplace misconduct by Waller and others, the City and union entered into a settlement agreement that provided for less severe discipline in exchange for waiver of the union members’ right to administratively appeal the discipline.

Waller filed suit in US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington contending that the city’s agreement to waive his right to appeal violated his right to due process.  US District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice concluded that based on longstanding labor law precedent, Waller’s due process rights were not violated. Here is earlier coverage.

That ruling prompted Waller to appeal. In a rather terse ruling, the Ninth Circuit affirmed Judge Rice’s decision:

  • Waller argues that the City violated his rights under the Due Process Clause by denying him the opportunity to pursue post-discipline review.
  • That argument fails due to the longstanding legal principle that unions are free to negotiate settlements without the affected members’ consent, even if the settlement waives rights that the members would otherwise have had.

Here is a copy of the decision:

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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