Former Wisconsin Fire Chief Prevails in Defamation Suit

A fire chief who was fired in 2016 following allegations that he told a female subordinate that she should resign when their affair ended, has prevailed in a defamation suit against her.

Former Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba was initially demoted and then fired after Mary Jo Hoppe accused him of sexual harassment. Hoppe claimed Chief Alba was pressuring her to resign. Chief Alba claims the two had a brief affair that ended badly with both of them struggling with continuing to see each other in the workplace. He denied sexually harassing her and said he suggested she resign from her part-time position as an EMS educator in order to allow them both to avoid the awkwardness they were feeling.

After he was terminated, Chief Alba and his wife, Vickie, filed a defamation lawsuit against Hoppe. The suit claimed Hoppe reported Chief Alba’s recommendation that she resign as being sexual harassment, but she neglected to mention the context was the ending of their romantic relationship.

Last week a Waukesha County jury agreed that Hoppe had defamed the Albas. However, in somewhat of a split verdict, the jury refused to award the Alba’s any damages.

Alba’s attorney, Douglas Rose, was quoted by the Journal Sentinal as saying:

  • Jesse Alba has sought to clear his name for five long and difficult years.
  • He and his family believe that as a result of this jury verdict his name has now, finally, been cleared of the horrible allegation of sexual harassment.
  • Alba remains forever remorseful about having an affair.
  • He has always adamantly denied any sexual harassment and the improper allegations.
  • Those who reached that wrongful conclusion about sexual harassment occurring, including the City of Waukesha Police and Fire Commission, should now realize that was not true.

Hoppe’s attorney, Lori M. Lubinsky, was quoted as saying:

  • We are pleased the jury recognized that nothing Mary Hoppe said to her two co-workers about Jesse Alba’s threats to her job resulted in his demotion and eventual termination from his employment with the City of Waukesha.
  • The PFC previously told Mr. Alba twice, once in 2013 and again in 2016, that his own admitted actions and failure to recognize that his actions were wrong was why he was fired.
  • Mary Hoppe was the victim of his actions.

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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