NJ Court Upholds Removal of Firefighter From Promotional List

The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court has upheld a decision to remove a firefighter from a promotional list based on his poor disciplinary record. John Shaw sought to challenge his removal from the promotional list for lieutenant in the Belleville Fire Department, claiming it was politically based due to his record as a Democrat conflicting with the Republican-leaning administration.

Quoting from the decision:

  • Shaw has been a firefighter for Belleville since approximately 2008.
  • In 2017, Shaw took and passed a promotional examination for fire lieutenant.
  • Four names, including Shaw’s as the first listed veteran eligible, were ultimately certified to Belleville in September 2021.
  • Belleville subsequently requested the removal of Shaw’s name based on an unsatisfactory employment history and appointed the remaining three individuals on October 1, 2021.
  • Belleville asserted Shaw had an extensive disciplinary history including multiple suspensions.
  • Shaw appealed to the Civil service Commission, claiming his disciplinary history was not sufficient to justify his removal from the list.
  • He further asserted the actual reason he was removed from the list was due to his political affiliation with the Democratic Party because the majority of the Fire Department and the mayor were associated with the Republican Party.
  • During Shaw’s time as a firefighter, there were numerous instances where he was suspended, disciplined, admonished, reprimanded, or received poor evaluations from his superiors stemming from work-related incidents and off-duty occurrences, including two arrests.
  • We need not recount every disciplinary matter involving Shaw.
  • Shaw argues the CSC’s final administrative action was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable and ignored competent evidence that established he was qualified for the position of fire lieutenant.
  • Shaw further argues Belleville’s true motivation for removing him was because of his political affiliation.
  • He further asserts his disciplinary history was remote in time and did not justify his removal from the list.
  • Moreover, he contends that if Belleville had concerns about his disciplinary history, he would not have been permitted to serve as an acting lieutenant as often as he did.
  • Additionally, Shaw argues the CSC failed to refer this matter to the Office of Administrative Law to resolve the disputed material facts regarding his political retaliation claim.
  • We conclude the CSC did not act in an arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable manner in denying Shaw’s application.
  • Shaw’s disciplinary history as documented in the record, coupled with his negative interactions with authority, provided ample support for the CSC’s decision that Belleville appropriately removed Shaw from the eligible list.
  • Specifically, substantial credible evidence established Shaw was arrested in 2016 and 2017.
  • The most recent incident resulted in a significant suspension that was not, contrary to his arguments, remote in time in relation to the lieutenant’s test and the certification of the eligible list.
  • And even if the arrests were not considered, there are more than sufficient other disciplinary and conduct-related matters in Shaw’s extensive record to justify the CSC’s decision.
  • Moreover, Shaw serving as an acting lieutenant does not necessarily mean that he is suitable to be promoted to the permanent title.
  • In fact, prior to being removed from the subject lieutenant list, Shaw was removed from acting lieutenant duties because of his actions.

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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