NY Volunteer Alleges Dismissal Violates His Civil Rights

A volunteer firefighter in New York who was dismissed for allegedly missing three consecutive monthly meetings, has filed suit claiming First Amendment, due process and equal protection violations. Keith Davis filed suit in federal court naming the Commack Fire Department, the Commack Fire District, the fire chief, the executive board, and the fire commissioners as defendants.

Davis claims his problems began in 2019 when he expressed an interest in running for an elected leadership position in the department. Thereafter, the fire chief and others became hostile towards him. This culminated in January, 2021 when the department sought to discipline him for missing three consecutive meetings. As explained in the complaint:

  • On or about January 5, 2021, the Commack Fire Department, via a letter signed by Vice President Dean Schneckenburger, ordered “per the Chiefs Office” that Plaintiff attend an executive Board meeting on January 21, 2021 to “provide a reason for” failing to attend three consecutive monthly meetings during calendar year 2020.
  • The January 5, 2021 notice does not identify what meetings Plaintiff allegedly missed.
  • In response to the January 5, 2021 notice, Plaintiff requested that Defendants identify what meetings he allegedly missed, explaining that if he did miss three consecutive meetings, which he does not believe to be the case, it would have been attributable to his responsibilities and commitments as a critical care nurse during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Defendants declined to provide Plaintiff with any further information regarding the allegations against him.
  • On or about January 17, 2021, Plaintiff submitted a letter of resignation, seeking to resign from the Commack Volunteer Fire Department as a member in good standing after approximately 15 years of service.
  • Defendants refused to accept Plaintiff’s resignation.
  • Plaintiff appeared at the January 21, 2021 Executive Committee meeting to address the allegations against him and reiterate his request to resign as a member in good standing.
  • During the January 21, 2021 Executive Committee meeting, allegations of absenteeism were addressed by at least one other member of the Department (“John Doe Comparator 1”).
  • Upon information and belief, John Doe Comparator 1 had legitimately violated the Department’s attendance policy, and did not offer any reasonable explanation, but was not disciplined in any way.
  • During the January 21, 2021 Executive Committee meeting, Plaintiff reiterated his request that the Department identify what dates he allegedly missed so as to better respond to the allegation, and indicated that any absences during calendar year 2020 were attributable to his work as a critical care nurse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Defendants declined to identify what dates Plaintiff was accused of being absent, and declined to consider his explanation for any alleged absence.
  • During the January 21, 2021 meeting Plaintiff re-iterated his request to resign as a member in good standing, but the Department again declined to accept his resignation.
  • Defendants, including specifically Chief Kieran Keane, advised plaintiff, wrongly, that they do not need to provide a hearing or give any reason for terminating him as a member of the Fire Department, but can instead terminate him “at will.”
  • On or about January 23, 2021, the Fire Department, by Chief Kieran Keane, sent Plaintiff a letter stating that he was “dismissed from the Commack Fire Department,” and it “was the determination of the Executive Board at its meeting on January 21, 2021 that you failed to adhere to the Commack Fire Department By- laws” regarding attendance.

Davis claims the department failed to comply with public records requests, preventing him from learning the dates he allegedly missed meetings as well as the identities of others who missed three consecutive meetings and were not dismissed. 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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