North Carolina Captain Claims Retaliatory Termination for Union Activities

A North Carolina fire captain who was terminated just 38 days after he was hired has filed suit in federal court alleging breach of contract, wrongful termination, and violation of his constitutional rights.

Captain Marquis Solomon was terminated from the Salisbury Fire Department on January 17, 2014, one day after a meeting with the fire chief where he voiced his support in favor of the formation of an IAFF local in the department.  Captain Solomon, who was hired on December 1, 2013, had been a captain with the Columbia Fire Department in South Carolina prior to accepting a position with Salisbury. He also served as president of Columbia Firefighters IAFF Local 793.

The 17 page complaint filed in US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina names the city, Fire Chief Robert A. Parnell, and City Manager Doug Paris as defendants. The complaint includes six counts:

  1. Wrongful discharge. “Defendant terminated the Plaintiff because of his refusal to abstain and refrain from membership in a labor union, thereby violating N.C. G.S. §95-81.”
  2. Violation of Plaintiff’s state law constitutional rights to assemble, more specifically the “freedom to assemble together for their common good under Article I, section 12 of the North Carolina Constitution.”
  3. Violation of his state law constitutional right to free speech. “Defendants alleged herein constitute a violation of Plaintiff’s right to freedom of speech under Article I, section 14 of the North Carolina Constitution.”
  4. Violation of his First Amendment Rights under the US Constitution
  5. Violation of the FLSA, in so far as “Defendants discharged the Plaintiff because he served on the International Association of Firefighters, thereby violating 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., including section 215 (a)(3) and causing the Plaintiff to lose employment, wages and benefits.” [Note: it is unclear exactly how this could be an FLSA violation UNLESS the union representatives raised an issue over an FLSA topic… such as maximum hours, overtime calculations, etc. That is pure speculation on my part.]
  6. Beach of contract.

The complaint indicates that in the days prior to his termination, several things occurred. First, Captain Solomon became aware that members had initiated efforts to establish an IAFF affiliate. He met with one of the organizers and suggested that the fire chief be informed.

During a meeting between the city manager and the fire chief on January 16, 2014 “the City Manager told the Chief that he must have a leadership issue with the Fire Department if a union was formed, a threat to the Chief’s employment for allowing a union to form. During this meeting, the City Manager and the Chief confirmed and recommitted to an official City policy and decision that prohibited union representation of firefighters, and retaliated against any employees joining and/or supporting a union.”

Later on the same day the chief met with Captain Solomon and firefighters in an effort “to convince them against the formation of a union, informing them that all unions do is take their money and that he would not tolerate the formation of a union in the City of Salisbury Fire Department.”

That meeting was followed by a private meeting between Captain Solomon and the chief at which “the Chief told the Plaintiff that, if the union representative were in the room, the Chief would fire the union representative and he would advise him to “put his badge on the table,” thereby terminating him from the Department. During this meeting, the Plaintiff advocated to the Chief on behalf of the Union, advising the Chief to allow the Union to form and offering to act as a liaison between the Union and the Department. The Plaintiff advised Chief Parnell that he would organize a meeting with Chief Parnell and the union representative.”

Captain Solomon was terminated the following day after a series of meetings between the union representatives and Chief Parnell, and the chief and the City Manager.

When terminated Captain Solomon was given a written statement to the effect that his termination was “related to concerns of your judgment as a high level supervisor. Supervisors are held to a high standard. This decision is related to a relationship with a fellow city employee.”

According to the complaint, Captain Solomon had previously disclosed to Chief Parnell that he had developed a personal relationship with another city employee who was not a subordinate of his. City policy at the time only prohibited romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates. The fire chief checked with the city’s human resources director and informed Captain Solomon that his relationship with the other city employee was “no big deal.”

Here is a copy of the complaint. Solomon v Salisbury

More on the story.

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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