Court sides with City Hall in dispute over firefighter demotions

firefighters union local 22
Members of firefighters union Local 22, pictured here at a rally in March, have a long and heated history with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration.
Credit: Rikard Larma / Metro

A Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge on Friday sided with City Hall in an ongoing battle over the demotion of 14 firefighters who were just promoted in May.

Judge Leon Tucker upheld the city’s argument that Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers has the authority to make promotions to the ranks of captain and lieutenant at his discretion and does not have to fill the vacancies using the names from a list of those who passed the civil service exam.

That means, barring any further court action, the 14 firefighters who were four months ago promoted – five of them to the rank of captain and nine to the rank of lieutenant – will be demoted this week.

“Paramedics Union Local 22 is understandably disappointed by Judge Tucker’s ruling today,” International Association of Firefighters and Paramedics Union Local 22 President Joe Schulle said Friday in a statement.

“We are immediately moving forward with an appeal to Commonwealth Court to vacate their decision. These 14 members earned their promotions. There was never any ‘temporary’ tag applied to their promotions, no matter what rhetoric the city administration spins to the contrary. We will continue to fight this latest injustice in the court of law.”

The ruling came after months of legal wrangling prompted by the city’s decision in early May to not fill firefighter vacancies based on the then-current civil service list, which expired May 24.

Local 22 sued, and Tucker in his initial opinion sided with the union, ruling May 14 the Philadelphia Civil Service Regulations and Home Rule Charter dictate “vacancies must be filled by promotion at the first opportunity possible, and not whenever most convenience to the officers charged with carrying out the civil service regulations.”

Tucker found that, while the city could reject an applicant who passed the civil service test, the city could not “fill vacancies from an eligible list, halt promotions, establish a new list, and then attempt to promote from the new list once the old list expires,” according to his order.

But the city appealed the decision, and Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini Sept. 18 ordered Tucker’s ruling be reversed.

Pellegrini found that, while the city was required to fill vacancies using names from the civil service list, it was not mandated to do so immediately.

“Nothing in the regulations prevents the city from letting an old list expire so that it can promote individuals off a new list,” he wrote in his opinion.

Pellegrini further ruled Civil Service Regulations “do not give employees on a promotional list an absolute right to be promoted to fill a vacancy as long as the promotional list is still in force” but that the decision to promote an employee or to fill a vacancy “is within the discretion of the fire commissioner,” according to court documents.

Court of Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler on Tuesday issued an emergency injunction putting a stop to the demotions until Tucker reviewed the case, but after hearing arguments from both sides, Tucker terminated the stay order and reversed his own decision.

During the protracted appeal process, the fire department administered a new round of civil service tests and the 14 firefighters who had already been promoted were excluded from consideration, according to the union.

That means that, as of Tucker’s latest ruling, the demoted firefighters will have to wait a year to reapply for the jobs.

Councilman Jim Kenney on Thursday blasted the dispute as “retaliation” against Local 22 from members of Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration and called for investigative hearings into the court battle.

“Everything that they have made this commissioner do and that he’s done relative to discipline, forced transfers, arbitration disputes, and now this promotional stuff, is all done out of antagonism – period,” Kenney said.

“And I don’t care what they say about ‘management prerogative’ or anything else, it’s all about sticking it to them, and that’s a shame.”


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Police seek mother of slain 11-year-old on involuntary…

Police are seeking the mother of an 11-year-old girl who was accidentally shot to death by her 2-year-old brother two weeks ago on involuntary manslaughter…

Local

Chestnut Hill College student found dead Wednesday morning

A 22-year-0ld Chestnut Hill College student was found dead this morning inside a college dormitory, police said.

International

Nearly 300 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years.

News

Explosions in new Boston Marathon bomb panic, 'twisted'…

A fresh Boston Marathon terror alert, which caused Bomb Squad officers to order an evacuation while two controlled explosions were carried out, was today being…

Books

Becoming friends with New York City's oldest known…

"The Life and Times of Richard Musto" tells the story, through a poem, of the oldest known homeless man in New York City.

Going Out

Get down and dirty at these neighborhood dives

Philly's got its share of innovative gastropubs and seen-and-be-seen drinking establishments with inventive cocktails served in mason jars. But sometimes we just want a shot…

Movies

Interview: Johnny Depp says he looks like himself,…

Johnny Depp talks about his new sci-fi thriller "Transcendence," not wearing gaudy makeup and wigs for a change and how he's a bit of a Luddite.

Movies

Review: 'Heaven is for Real' tries to be…

The mega-bestseller "Heaven is for Real" becomes a movie that tries to portray wrestling with faith — or at least it tries to try.

NHL

Top 5 Philadelphia storylines for Flyers-Rangers

The slate is clean for the Flyers and the Rangers. Which is good news for the Flyers.

U.S. Soccer

Andrew Wenger has big shoes to fill on…

Lancaster County native Andrew Wenger will feel pressure to fill the shoes of departer forward Jack McInerney.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

NBA

Sixers, Michael Carter-Williams give fans a happy ending…

The 2013-14 season for the 76ers has nearly come to a close.

Wellbeing

Cognitive skills begin to drop at age 24

But the news isn't all that bad.

Tech

5 surprising facts about Google Glass

Your sex life could get more interesting.

Career

How to get a job at a startup:…

We talked to Tarek Pertew, one of the co-founders behind Uncubed, about how to get your dream job at a startup.

Parenting

The 'smartest' summer camps across the country

See a list of summer camps across the country that emphasis learning, while still being fun.