Michigan Fire Chief Challenges Termination

The former fire chief for Kalamazoo Township, Michigan has filed suit against the township and its manager claiming that his termination last year was improper and violated his due process rights. Fire Chief David J. Obreiter was terminated September 14, 2022, approximately one-month after a pre-determination hearing was held before Township Manager Dexter A. Mitchell.

At issue was Chief Obreiter’s handling of sexual harassment allegations brought by a female fighter. The firefighter she accused was subsequently fired. The complaint sets forth a compelling explanation that Chief Obreiter handled the allegations in accordance with department policy, assigning a battalion chief to conduct the investigation. The battalion chief was fired as well.

The complaint alleges that Mitchell pre-judged what he thought occurred and ignored evidence that showed the chief was properly handling the sexual harassment allegations based upon what was known at the time. Quoting from the complaint’s preliminary statement:

  • Plaintiff David Obreiter, former Fire Chief of Defendant Charter Township of Kalamazoo, is a dedicated public servant who has served his country, and community, with distinction and integrity.
  • He was falsely accused, and ultimately terminated, for failure to investigate employee claims of workplace harassment.
  • He was utterly deprived of anything approaching a fair opportunity to defend himself, as the Defendant Township, spearheaded by its Township Manager, Defendant Dexter Mitchell, directed an investigation, which, while purportedly independent, was wholly outcome determinative, as Plaintiff was denied any meaningful opportunity to participate, subjected to a hostile and abusive interrogation, and deprived of crucial evidence required to defend himself.
  • The investigation, and pre-termination hearing process, was a sham.
  • From the onset of the Township’s investigation, up to the date of his sudden termination without warning, it was amply clear that Plaintiff was presumed guilty.
  • Plaintiff did his best to assert his rights, and protect his career and reputation, having been publicly shamed in the press by a Township Trustee.
  • However, Plaintiff’s efforts to secure a fair-post termination process, geared toward reinstating his career and reputation, were ultimately rebuffed.
  • As such, Plaintiff was wholly deprived Due Process, and indeed, his sacred Presumption of Innocence.
  • He brings this action to rectify these grave injustices.

The 46-page, 255-numbered paragraph complaint contains two counts: violation of his liberty-interest-based due process rights, and a mandamus action to reverse the termination because “Plaintiff has shown a clear legal right to the performance of a specific duty by the defendant and the defendant has an incontrovertible legal duty to act in the manner requested; in addition, there must be a lack of an adequate legal remedy.”

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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