Boston Firefighter Challenges Civil Service Ruling on Termination

A Boston firefighter who was fired last year over incendiary social media posts has filed suit to challenge a state civil service ruling that upheld his termination. Octavius Rowe, a 15-year veteran, was fired by the Boston Fire Department on April 30, 2018 following a lengthy investigation.

Rowe, who served as the vice president of Boston’s Vulcan Society, claimed he was being singled out for discipline over his posts while white firefighters posted comparably offensive comments without any scrutiny. He also claimed his comments were unrelated to his job and protected by the First Amendment.

The Massachusetts Civil Service Commission upheld Rowe’s termination, but noted troubling concerns about how the initial investigation was launched. Rowe’s lawsuit is, in essence, an appeal of the Civil Service Commission’s decision. It was filed in Suffolk County Superior Court. The suit alleges:

  • The Commission’s ruling was unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment and the Massachusetts state constitution’s Declaration of Rights;
  • The ruling was arbitrary and capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence, and based on errors of law;
  • The city lacked just cause to terminate Rowe;
  • The city failed to follow its own progressive discipline policy;
  • The decision to fire him was made in bad faith, tainted by favoritism and bias in violation of state and federal law;
  • Rowe was singled out for disparate treatment on account of his race, religion and speech.

The suit seeks a court order requiring the civil service commission to reopen Rowe’s case, prohibiting the city from introducing social media evidence that was protected by the First Amendment at the subsequent rehearing, and awarding damages, costs and attorney fees.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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