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Jun 29 2015

Substantial Award of Back Pay, Benefits, and Possible Reinstatement for Firefighter Unlawfully Placed on Unpaid Leave

Author(s): Nathaniel Lambright

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On June 19, 2015, the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department held in a case litigated by Blitman & King LLP that the City of Syracuse unlawfully placed Firefighter John Williams on unpaid, involuntary leave in violation of the New York State Civil Service Law.  Firefighter Williams, who was removed from active duty by the City in 2011 following a medical issue, was never formally provided an explanation as to the status of his employment, why he had been removed, or notice of his rights under Civil Service Law.  Instead of adhering to procedural requirements set forth in the Civil Service Law, the City provided no basis for its determination, leaving Firefighter Williams in an unpaid, unjustified state of limbo for several years.  Nat Lambright, a partner in the firm, successfully argued at the Appellate Division on behalf of Firefighter Williams that the City’s inaction violated the clear procedural protections contained in Civil Service Law §72(1).

The Fourth Department held in Williams v. Troiano that the City failed to strictly comply with necessary procedures for placing Williams on immediate involuntary leave.  The Court reasoned that the City never formally notified Williams as to when and why he was being placed on leave, and failed thereafter to provide him with the requisite final determination after a due process hearing within the applicable time period (75 days).  Given “the significant due process implications” of the City’s actions, the Appellate Division, in a first of its kind decision, ruled that Williams was entitled to back pay, the restoration of all benefits, and possible reinstatement.

All told, the Fourth Department found the City liable to Firefighter Williams for back pay and benefits from August 26, 2011 until September 30, 2013, an amount well exceeding $100,000.00.  Additionally, the Court ruled that Firefighter Williams must be afforded a hearing within one year to determine his fitness for reinstatement to the Department.  Relief may also be available to the Syracuse Firefighters Local 280, whose membership voluntarily donated sick days to support Williams during this ordeal.