Law Offices of Louis Spitters

Wrongful termination case goes before jury for determination

Whistle-blowing is generally a protected activity under both federal and state laws. Disagreements with the employer or legally permissible criticisms may not be whistle-blowing. However, in California if the employer takes action against the employee because the employee does or says something that is legally encouraged or protected by public policy, the employee may have a wrongful termination case based on retaliation.

In another state, a former assistant fire chief was fired after publicly criticizing the city's ethics and bad faith practices, sued the city for wrongful termination in federal court. The case is based on the allegation that the city eliminated the assistant fire chief position, causing the man to lose his job, because he publicly spoke out against government policies for several months. He told other Fire Department employees and the community that the city made false promises that misled employees, and that it refused to honor its agreements and negotiate in good faith.

The city of Pembroke Pines, Florida responded to the lawsuit by claiming that the man's job was eliminated for budget reasons, not because he criticized the city. He had made $158,000 annually as the assistant fire chief and was also collecting substantial pension benefits as of 2008, according to the city. He had worked as a Pembroke Pines firefighter for more than 21 years, and became assistant fire chief in 2006. He was fired on June 1, 2010, three years before his planned retirement.

The complainant had been speaking out against the city's decision to reduce salaries and benefits and outsource employees that would affect the Fire Department. The city had suffered lost revenues and was cutting costs. The city insists that the decision to cut out assistant fire chief came down to a lack of money, and also that the Department was "top-heavy" with administrators.

The complainant is asking for damages to recover his wages, bonuses, health insurance and additional benefits. The case is now in the midst of a jury trial. Whichever version of those facts that the jury believes and finds more convincing will tell the tale of whether there was a wrongful termination and whether the man will obtain a recovery. California residents who feel they have been unjustly fired may be able to file a similar lawsuit.

Source: Sun Sentinel, Fired assistant fire chief sues Pembroke Pines, Heather Carney, Oct. 8, 2013

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