Volunteer firefighters must be afforded due process in disciplinary proceedings
A volunteer firefighter was suspended from active duty with the Fire Company for a period of one year, which subsequently was reduced to a suspension from active duty for a period of six months and a suspension from social functions for another period of six months.
The firefighter filed a CPLR Article 78 petition contending that the Fire Company's disciplinary proceeding failed to comply with the requirements of Civil Service Law §75 with respect to his status as an exempt volunteer firefighter.* Supreme Court remitted the matter to the Fire Company to conduct a hearing in accordance with Civil Service Law §75 and for a new determination thereafter.
The Appellate Division affirmed the result but in so doing noted the relevant provision of law was General Municipal Law §209-l and not the Civil Service Law §75.
The Appellate Division explained that "Civil Service Law §75(1)(b) provides certain procedural protections to permanent employees in the competitive class and to permanent appointee in the classified service not in the competitive class who are also exempt volunteer firefighters. The statute provides these protections to all individuals employed in classified civil service positions who fit within its definitions."
Although in this instance the firefighter was an exempt volunteer firefighter, he has not been subjected to disciplinary action by as an employee of the State as the employer or as an employee of a political subdivision of the State. The court rejected the firefighter’s argument that his status as an exempt volunteer firefighter, standing alone, entitled him to the protection of Civil Service Law §75.**
However, the Appellate Division found “no merit” in the Fire Company’s contention that it did not have to comply with the hearing requirements of General Municipal Law §209-l because this matter did not involve the firefighter's "removal" from the Fire Company.
The court said "[A]; volunteer firefighter must be afforded due process in disciplinary proceedings” where he or she has been subjected to disciplinary action initiated by his or her Fire Company, citing Matter of Greene v Medford Fire Department, 6 AD3d 705. This, said the court, is true whether the penalty that is ultimately imposed entails the firefighter's permanent removal from his or her position, or a suspension from the position.”
The court pointed out that General Municipal Law §209-l(5) provides that "[t];he officer or body having the power to remove the person charged with incompetence or misconduct may suspend such person after charges are filed and pending disposition of the charges, and after the hearing may remove such person or may suspend him or her for a period of time not to exceed one year" (emphasis supplied by the court).
The Appellate Division found that the plain meaning of this provision is that a volunteer firefighter may only be temporarily suspended, without a hearing, from the time that the charges are filed until the ultimate disposition of the charges, but that a hearing is required to actually dispose of the charges, and that a final penalty of suspension, not to exceed one year, may only be imposed after that hearing. Accordingly, the Fire Company was required to comply with the procedures set our in General Municipal Law §209-l
Thus, the Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court “properly remitted the matter to the Fire Company for further proceedings, including a hearing on the charges preferred against the [firefighter], and a new determination thereafter.
* The qualifications for certification as an exempt volunteer firefighter are set out in §200 of the General Municipal Law. General Municipal Law §202 provides for a certificate to be issued to a person qualified to be an exempt volunteer firefighter.
** See Civil Service Law §75;[b]).
The Discipline Book, - A concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State set out in a 2100+ page e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html