Rockland MA Firefighter Prevails on Appeal of Termination

The reversal of the termination of a Massachusetts firefighter by the state’s Civil Service Commission due to bias on the part of fire department officials, has been upheld by a state Superior Court judge. Lieutenant Craig Erickson was fired from the Rockland Fire Department in 2017 following several allegations related to sick leave.

The factual basis for Lt. Erickson’s termination is complicated, and resulted in a federal lawsuit alleging race discrimination, harassment and retaliation. That post and a copy of the decision posted below offer additional context to the story. Among the allegations was a 1996 incident where Lt. Erickson was physically assaulted by a town selectman, Edmund DelPrete. DelPrete was subsequently convicted of a racial assault and battery on Lt. Erickson, who is African-American. Lt. Erickson alleges the racial assault left him with PTSD, and that PTSD figured prominently in his subsequent sick leave issues.

Lt. Erickson contended he was “singled out for petty and discriminatory violations of procedure that ultimately culminated in his termination from employment.” The Massachusetts Civil Service Commission concluded Lt. Erickson engaged in misconduct for which discipline was warranted, but concluded “the disciplinary process here was inappropriately affected by animus toward [Erickson] that resulted in his termination.” It ruled he should not be terminated, but rather should be demoted and suspended for 90 days.

The town appealed the ruling, claiming the Commission exceeded its authority by fashioning its own determination of an appropriate punishment. Judge Christine M. Roach disagreed, concluding the Commission got it right:

  • Although the evidence before the Commission did not compel a finding that Erickson was subject to bias, there exists in this Record evidence of bias sufficiently substantial to permit the Commission’s conclusion as a matter of law.
  • Contrary to Rockland’s arguments, the Commission’s Decision does not “simply rel[y] on innuendo.”
  • [T]he commission may determine that an employee has been subject to, and rendered unfit by, racist and retaliatory acts and an arbitrary and capricious response to those acts by the municipality.”
  • The focus of this Commission’s Decision was not disparate treatment on the basis of age, disability, or race.
  • Rather, it addressed the presence of personal bias within the workplace based on favoritism or political considerations, a matter over which it holds primary jurisdiction, and which is its fundamental purpose.

Here is a copy of the decision:

Here is earlier coverage of Lt. Erickson’s case.

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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