Arbitrator Overturns Demotion in Miami Dade Facebook Rant Case

 

Miami Dade’s Brian Beckmann is once again a captain, courtesy of a long awaited arbitrators ruling handed down today.

Just about a year ago, the case made news when Captain Beckmann posted some remarks about the Trayvon Martin shooting case that many took to be racist. The remarks themselves did not reference race but in the context of the thread were understood by some to be offensive. For the record those remarks were:

"I and my co-workers could rewrite the book on whether our urban youths are victims of racist profiling or products of their failed, (expletive), ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents."

While the remarks were initially shared with a limited number of his Facebook friends, an “offended” co-worker of Captain Beckmann’s forwarded the post to others causing the statement to go viral.

Riding a wave of public anger over the posting, Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez directed Fire Chief William W. Bryson to terminate Captain Beckmann.  Chief Bryson felt a 14 day suspension was more in order but relented to the demotion when he realized his own job was on the line.

The arbitrator’s ruling issued today reversed the demotion and imposed a 14 day suspension concluding that the Mayor exceeded his authority in dictating the punishment which by law was delegated to the Fire Chief.

The Mayor made the decision to demote Mr. Beckmann, and Chief Bryson carried out the Mayor’s decision by signing the demotion letter. Chief Bryson did so only because he believed that he had no discretion to do otherwise. …

The Arbitrator deems it self-evident that the [city’s personnel] directives – that [dictate that] the demotion decision must be made by a Department Director – refers to who must make the decision and not to who must sign the paperwork. The latter without the former would be an empty clerical gesture, unworthy of memorialization in the CBA. …

Under CBA Article 4.8, Chief Bryson alone was to have made the decision to demote…

[T]he Arbitrator finds that Chief Bryson believed that if he did not fire or demote Captain Beckmann, he would be discharged. That constraint upon Chief Bryson’s independent judgment constituted a violation of the parties’ CBA contractual intent….

In reinstating Captain Beckmann the arbitrator also awarded him back pay for the nearly eleven months he was paid at firefighter’s rate.

Here is a copy of the ruling: Arbitrator's Decision – Beckmann Facebook Posting Demotion

I have to admit, I am somewhat disappointed that the case focused solely on the role of the mayor in overreaching the fire chief, and not on what is a more important issue: the First Amendment rights of an off duty firefighter to discuss a non-work related matter of public concern as a private citizen.

Perhaps that will have to await a civil suit.

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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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