Judge Refuses to Dismiss Claims of Former Cincinnati Chief

A federal court judge has ruled that former Cincinnati Fire Chief Michael Washington can only be removed for cause, and refused to dismiss his suit against the city of Cincinnati for what he alleges is a violation of his due process rights. Chief Washington was fired last year by City Manager Sheryl Long and Mayor Aftab Pureval.

The city asked the court to dismiss the suit, which also alleges defamation and conspiracy to violate Chief Washington’s due process rights. The suit seeks back pay, lost benefits, and punitive damages.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Cole ruled yesterday that Chief Washington’s due process claims were valid. Quoting from the complaint:

  • The proper question is whether the position of Cincinnati Fire Chief constitutes a public employment position for which the officeholder, here Washington, can be fired only for cause. Defendants’ problem is that the answer to that question is clearly yes.
  • The Charter of the City of Cincinnati—a matter of public record of which the Court may take judicial notice plainly states that “[a]fter the fire chief has served six months, he or she shall be subject to removal only for cause[.]”
  • Washington was in his position for nearly two years from May 2021 until March 24, 2023.
  • As a Fire Chief with more than six-months’ tenure, Washington was entitled to the attendant for-cause-removal protections.
  • And under well-established caselaw, he therefore held a constitutionally protected property interest in his continued employment.
  • As this is the only challenge Defendants raise, their claim that Washington’s due process claims are legally insufficient necessarily fail.

Quoting from Chief Washington:

  • I hope and expect this is the first step toward justice in my case.
  • Like so many who have served, my tenure at the Cincinnati Fire Department will always be my proudest accomplishment.
  • The truth always comes to light in the end, and I am confident that justice will prevail in our case.

Here is a copy of the decision.

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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