Ohio Court Upholds Termination of Firefighter

Ohio’s Third Appellate District Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of a firefighter who was terminated for failing to pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians during his probationary period.

Mark Evans filed suit against Shawnee Township in 2019, alleging breach of contract, and wrongful discharge. Evans claimed he should have had three years to pass the National Registry exam, pointing to certain job postings, job descriptions, and “a verbal assertion by the fire chief.” The Allen County Court of Common Pleas disagreed, granting the township’s motion for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that Evans was an “at-will” employee, negating any possibility of a breach of contract. The court also rejected Evans’ implied contract claim, and found no public policy reason to prohibit his discharge.

Quoting from the ruling:

  • Here, Evans’s public employment as a firefighter and paramedic with Shawnee Township was governed by R.C. 505.38 and the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement.
  • Specifically, the collective bargaining agreement in place between Shawnee Township and the bargaining unit-The International Association of Local Firefighters Local #2550-reflects, in its relevant part, that “[e]ach new employee upon entering a bargaining unit position covered by th[e] Agreement shall serve an initial probationary period of one (1) year.”
  • In other words, firefighters employed by Shawnee Township do not become appointees under R.C. 505.38-that is, enjoy a protected-property interest in their employment-until the completion of the one-year probationary period.
  • Because probationary employees do not enjoy a protected-property interest in their employment until the completion of this probationary period, the collective bargaining agreement further provides that “[e]mployees serving their initial probationary period may be terminated anytime during the probationary period and shall have no appeal rights regarding such removal.”
  • There is no dispute that Evans did not complete his one-year probationary period, and, as such, that Evans did not enjoy a protected-property interest in his employment as a firefighter and paramedic with Shawnee Township.
  • Nevertheless, Evans contends that statements in a job posting, in a job description, made by the fire chief, and in the collective bargaining agreement created a property interest in his employment.
  • That is, Evans contends that the job posting, job description, statements by the fire chief, and the collective bargaining agreement created an implied-in-fact contract which modified his at-will employment.
  • We disagree.
  • “An ‘exception to the employment at-will doctrine is an express or implied contract altering the terms for discharge.’
  • However, “[u]nder Ohio law, a political subdivision cannot be bound by a contract ‘unless the agreement is in writing and formally ratified through proper channels.’
  • “Consequently, a political subdivision cannot be liable based on theories of implied or quasi contract.”

Here is a copy of the decision, issued today:

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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