Colorado Wrongful Termination Suit Settled

A wrongful termination lawsuit filed last June by a Colorado deputy chief has been settled. Deputy Chief Kevin Ratzmann sued the Los Pinos Fire Protection District and its Board of Directors in US District Court for the District of Colorado alleging violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, retaliation, wrongful termination, breach of contract and promissory estoppel.

According to the complaint, Chief Ratzmann was placed under investigation days after reporting misconduct by the fire chief to the President of the fire district’s Board of Directors in October, 2018. He was terminated in November, 2018.

Part of Chief Ratzmann’s claims rest upon the fact he moved from Florida to Colorado to take the deputy chief’s position in 2016, with the expectation the fire chief would be leaving in six months. After a successful first year duirng which the fire chief did not retire, he was granted a five-year employment agreement with the understanding that upon the chief’s retirement he would become the fire chief.  As explained in the complaint:

  • In September 2017 the District published and distributed a “Succession Plan.”
  • The first page of the Succession Plan states: Planning Assumptions
    • As this plan is developed, there are several assumptions that are understood. […] As the fire chief retires, the deputy fire chief will be promoted into that position.
  • The succession plan was adopted, in part, because the District was aware that the only reason Mr. Ratzmann accepted the Deputy Fire Chief position was with the understanding that he quickly would be promoted to Fire Chief (the position he originally applied for).
  • Plaintiff would not have uprooted his family and moved 1,900 miles across the country for the same job he held in Florida. He moved because he was promised a promotion to Fire Chief within a short period of time.

Here is a copy of the original complaint:

According to The Journal, the settlement calls for the district to pay Chief Ratzmann “at least $14,427 in compensation.” The Journal reports that he has since become the fire chief in Grand Lake Fire Protection District, also in Colorado.

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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