Michigan Firefighter Claims Retaliation for Support of Two-Hatter Protection Law

A Michigan firefighter who was fired last week has responded with a federal lawsuit accusing the city, the city manager and the city’s public safety director of violating his 1st and 14th Amendment rights.

Thomas J. Saladino was a 23-year veteran of the Wyoming Fire Department. He also served as the fire chief for Jamestown Township until forced to relinquish that position earlier this year by Wyoming Public Safety Director James Carmody.

Last week Chief Saladino was terminated from the Wyoming Fire Department allegedly because he continued serving as fire chief in Jamestown in violation of city directives.

Chief Saladino was instrumental in lobbying for the passage of a Two-Hatter protection law in 2014, that extended protection to career firefighters who choose to work part-time in other communities. According to the complaint, Carmody and City Manager Curtis Holt actively opposed the law.

As explained in the complaint:

  • Defendants approved of Plaintiff working for both Wyoming and Jamestown until they became aware of his involvement in passing House Bill 4624, MCL 423.215a, which was signed into law on October 15, 2014.
  • MCL 423.215a has been referred to as the “Two-Hatter protection law”. Its origin lies in opposition to a municipal policy announced in 2010 or 2011.
  • In approximately 2010 or 2011, the City of Grand Rapids announced its intent to prohibit its career firefighters from serving as volunteer or part-time Firefighters for any other municipality during off-duty hours.
  • On October 15, 2014, MCL 423.215a became effective, it states: An employee of a public fire department may volunteer for or seek and accept part-time or paid on-call employment with another fire department if that employment does not conflict with his or her performance of the original employment as determined by the original employer. This section does not create a right for a full-time employee of a public fire department to accept full-time employment with another fire department. A local unit of government shall not adopt or apply an ordinance, rule, or policy in conflict with the right granted an employee under this section. Collective bargaining between a public employer and a bargaining representative of its employees shall not include the subject of a prohibition on an employee volunteering for or obtaining paid oncall employment with another fire department.
  • On January 1, 2015, Defendants amended the Wyoming Department of Public Safety General Order Number 200.S.2 related to Secondary Employment to make the general nature of firefighting and EMS employment with Defendant City “inherently in conflict” with any and all part-time positions elsewhere, thus allowing Defendant Wyoming to “impose restrictions on outside employment”.
  • On January 28, 2016, for the first time in the history of Plaintiff’s “Two-Hatter” status, Defendant Carmody denied Plaintiff’s request for secondary employment based on the following “concerns”:
  1. Plaintiff was a part-time “salaried employee of the Township”,
  2. Plaintiff was Fire Chief, thus, responsible for the budget, and
  3. “Confusion” regarding when employment starts and ends.
  • Defendant Carmody stated: “Given these many variables, I believe that it would be prudent to deny your request. However, if you chose to continue on as only a paid-on-call firefighter, we would give that request serious consideration”.
  • The reasons given by Defendant Carmody for denying Plaintiff’s request for secondary employment on January 28, 2016, are a sham and pretext.
  • On February 15, 2016, Plaintiff resigned his position as Jamestown Fire Chief, his duties were transferred to Deputy Chief Duane Miedema and Plaintiff assumed the title “Firefighter”.
  • In July of 2016, Defendants accused Plaintiff of violating Defendants’ policy of prohibiting him from acting as Chief of the Jamestown Township Fire Department because he was assisting Chief Duane Miedema with administrative tasks and related duties. A sham Internal Affairs Investigation was opened.
  • On August 10, 2016, wrongfully and in violation of Plaintiff’s Constitutional Rights, Defendants terminated Plaintiff’s employment with Defendant City of Wyoming. The reasons given were all sham and pretext.

The suit contains three counts:

  • First Amendment – retaliation for his political advocacy of the Two-Hatter legislation
  • 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Constitutional Rights violation
  • Whistleblower violations under federal and state law.

Chief Saladino is seeking $500,000 in damages, and is suing Carmody and Holt in their personal capacities claiming that the rights in question were “clearly established”. Government officials who violate a person’s “clearly established” Constitutional rights while acting under color of law – lose the benefit of a qualified privilege that would otherwise shield them from liability.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Saladino v Wyoming

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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