NY Assistant Chief Prevails on Due Process Challenge to His Dismissal

A federal court judge has ruled that a New York fire district violated the due process rights of a volunteer assistant chief by terminating him in 2013 without notice and a hearing.

William J. Ratajack Jr. was terminated from the Brewster Fire Department and the Brewster-Southeast Joint Fire District in August 2013. Chief Ratajack was accused of going on a tirade over the fact that members refused to participate in a parade but were hanging around the fire station. During the course of the outburst he reportedly directed the “N-word” at two white firefighters.

Chief Ratajack filed suit in 2014 claiming the failure of the fire district to afford him notice and a hearing prior to his termination violated his due process rights. He also sued claiming the district and members of the department violated his First Amendment rights and defamed him.

In an 84-page decision, Judge Kenneth M. Karas concluded that the fire district terminated Chief Ratajack without giving him proper notice and an opportunity to be heard. Judge Karas also ruled in favor of the fire district and the individual defendants on Chief Ratajack’s First Amendment and defamation claims. The ruling does not award damages or order Chief Ratajack to be reinstated. The parties will be back in court next week.

Here is a copy of the ruling: Ratajack v. Brewster FD and BSEJFD et al Court Decisioin

For those interested, Judge Karas does a thorough job of discussing procedural due process and the current state of First Amendment law as it applies to public employees.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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