Michigan Whistleblower Suit Heads to Federal Court

A Michigan fire chief who filed a state court whistleblower lawsuit in July following his termination in April, is now headed to federal court, courtesy of the city’s decision to remove the case to U.S. District Court.

Fire Chief Robert Tompos was terminated by the City of Taylor on April 19, 2013 following a tumultuous relationship with Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand. You may recall that in 2012 the city council filed suit against the mayor to try to get him to accept an $8.1 million SAFER grant to restore 32 firefighter positions. Under threat of being found in contempt of court the mayor was forced to accept the funding.

According to the complaint, Chief Tompos complained to Mayor Lamarand, the city council and the media that:

  1. Protective clothing and gear used by firefighters was out of date, out of compliance with applicable safety standards, dangerous to the firefighters using it, and could cause significant injury or death to fire fighters;
  2. Reduced staffing of the Fire Department slowed response times and posed a danger to the public;
  3. Reduced staffing of the Fire Department posed a danger to responders;
  4. Reduced staffing meant that the Fire Department could not operate within applicable safety standards; and
  5. Defendant Lamarand wrongfully removed $60,000 from the City budget.

Mayor Lamarant objected to Chief Tompos’ publically exposing these allegations, accused him of being insubordinate, threatened him with termination, and actively took steps to prevent him from reporting concerns to the council. Oddly enough, when Mayor Lamarant terminated Chief Tompos last April he said it was purely for budgetary reasons.

The suit contains two counts: a state law whistleblower violation and a Section 1983 claim alleging violation of Chief Tompos’ First Amendment rights. Today, the case was removed to US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan due to the First Amendment claim (which incidentally is a weaker argument than the whistleblower allegation given).

As we saw last week in the Baltimore County case – it has become SOP for attorneys defending municipalities to seek removal of state court suits where a federal claim is made.

Here is a copy of the removal request. Tompos Whistleblower Removal

Here is a copy of the original state court complaint. Tompos v City of Taylor

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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