Maryland Firefighters Sue City For $25M, Alleging Wrongful Discharge

BALTIMORE (AP) -- Three former senior Baltimore firefighters have filed a $25 million wrongful discharge lawsuit against the city and fire department, alleging they were unfairly pushed out.

Former shift commanders Lawrence Pully and Joseph McKenzie of Baltimore and Michael Caplan of Randallstown acknowledge that their high rank put them outside of union protection. But they said the manner in which they were forced to leave in 2002 was so arbitrary it creates a public safety hazard because no firefighters will want to be promoted.

They also charge that the city treated them ``vastly different'' than other high-level city employees who were asked to step down.

For instance, the former city parks director, Marvin F. Billups Jr., was fired in 2003 but remained on the city payroll and was allowed to live in a city-owned house while officials tried to find him another job, according to the complaint.

``Plaintiffs on the other hand received no assistance whatsoever from the defendants in terms of meaningful assistance and were just 'thrown out into the street,''' the complaint says.

The Baltimore Fire Officers Association is assisting the former officers with their lawsuit, even though they were promoted beyond union protection.

``If they were our members, we would be supporting the lawsuit because we concur with their position,'' local union president Stephen G. Fugate said. ``In this case, I would suggest that there was no legitimate cause'' for their termination.

The plaintiffs contend that their case stems from the mandate for change Mayor Martin O'Malley issued when he promoted William J. Goodwin Jr. to fire chief in February 2002.

Goodwin had an ``unacceptable level of discretion'' in terminating the most experienced fire fighters and officers for no cause, according to the complaint.

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler III did not return a call for comment.

Caplan was a city firefighter from October 1967 until he was terminated in July 2002. McKenzie was a firefighter from October 1970 until his retirement in September 2002, and Pully was a firefighter from November 1958 until he retired in October 2002.

The men were three of the department's four shift commanders, responsible for all firefighting and medical activities until the position of division chief was created to replace the shift commanders in July 2002.

When their positions were abolished, Goodwin allegedly told the men that ``they should contemplate their retirement'' and told them to take two weeks' leaves of absence. The men asked to be returned to their prior positions as battalion chiefs, noting prior department policy.

Caplan was fired when he returned to work from his leave of absence. Fearing that their termination was inevitable, McKenzie and Pully ``initiated the retirement process'' and left the department.

They seek $5 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages in the case filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Information from: The Daily Record