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Dooley files suit against MW fire over loss of job

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By Alex Wimsatt

 MOUNT WASHINGTON - Nearly two months after Michael Dooley stepped aside as chief of the Mount Washington Fire Protection District following the fire board’s decision not to renew his contract, the long-time firefighter sued his former employer claiming that he was improperly dismissed. 

Dooley’s attorney, Kenneth McCardwell, filed suit against the fire district in Bullitt Circuit Court on Monday, Feb. 20. 

According to the lawsuit, Dooley is requesting the court hold a hearing on his dismissal and immediately restore him to his position as chief of the fire district. 

The plaintiff is also asking the court to award him back pay and other damages for his dismissal.

The lawsuit cites Kentucky Revised Statutes 75.130, which states “no member or employee of a fire protection district shall be reprimanded, dismissed, suspended, or reduced in grade or pay for any reason except inefficiency, misconduct, insubordination, or violation of the law or of the rules adopted by the board of trustees of the fire protection district, and only after charges are preferred and a hearing conducted as provided by this section.” 

The lawsuit goes on to state that KRS defines “member” to include the chief and all officers. 

The plaintiff alleges that prior to the June 2011 regular meeting of the district’s board of trustees, then chairman Darrell Vires met on one or more occasions with Bullitt County Attorney Monica Robinson in an effort to find a way to dismiss Dooley without having to follow the dictates of KRS Chapter 75, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that when the board met in executive session in June 2011 “Board Member John Jarrett proposed seeking a new, different, or additional chief of the Fire District and was warned by other trustees and counsel that this was impermissible pursuant to KRS Chapter 75, unless Dooley had violated the provisions of KRS Chapter 75.130.”

According to the minutes of the June 14, 2011 board meeting, the board narrowly voted to “open the chief position for acceptance of applications statewide and look at other opportunities.”

The lawsuit states that the board advertised for the position of chief in October of 2011.

In a letter addressed to board chairman Steve Kennedy dated Oct. 7, 2011 McCardwell gave notice that he had been retained by Dooley to represent him concerning “employment and benefit related matters” and that his client wished to continue as chief. 

The lawsuit claims that on Nov. 29, 2011, the secretary of the board, Wayne Hodge, signed a letter, at the urging of Jarrett, to inform Dooley that the board would not renew his employment contract. 

“This letter is to provide notice to you that pursuant to the terms of your employment contract with the Mt. Washington Fire Protection District, the Mt. Washington Fire Protection District Board is hereby affirmatively not renewing your employment contract that ends January 2, 2012,” the letter states. 

In a letter dated Dec. 28, 2011, McCardwell requested a trial of any charges against Dooley that could’ve resulted in his dismissal. 

“On his behalf, we wish to give notice of his intent to demand trial of the apparent alleged effort by a trustee of the Mount Washington Fire Protection District to dismiss Chief Dooley by way of a letter,” McCardwell stated in the letter.

“KRS 75.130 and the MWFPD ‘By-laws’ protect a ‘member’ from being dismissed by a letter which does not provide notice of any charges being preferred against him by the ‘chairman of the board of trustees’ (KRS 75.130(1-6)),was apparently not based upon a review by the Mount Washington Fire Protection District Board of Trustees at an open meeting, not voted on at an open meeting, and provides no basis whatsoever for what appears to be the act of a trustee and his decision to have Board Secretary Wayne Hodge send a letter of dismissal to Chief Dooley.” 

Dooley and his attorney were advised their request for a hearing would be taken up during the board’s January 2012 regular meeting, according to the lawsuit.

In a letter issued to McCardwell, dated Jan. 19, 2012, an attorney for the district, Laurie Goetz Kemp, stated that the former chief was not entitled to a hearing.

“Having reviewed the contract and law on this matter, it is our position that former Chief Dooley was not a Chapter 75 employee and thus not entitled to a hearing,” the letter states.

“Former Chief Dooley was aware several months prior to the expiration of this contract that the district intended to post the position. 

“Despite his knowledge of this, he made no efforts to timely apply for the position to even be considered. Without this, Mt. Washington Fire Protection District was not in a position to consider him for renewal of the contract.  

Given these facts, we believe that Mt. Washington Fire Protection District met all obligations owed to former Chief Michael Dooley.”

The lawsuit states that on Oct. 11, 2011, former board attorney Jason McGregor informed the district’s auditor, William Hollister, at the request of the board, that former chairperson Darrell Vires obtained advice from the county attorney “that because Chief Dooley has an employment agreement with MWFPD, the above” (KRS 75.130 (1) and KRS 75.100 (7))” does not apply to Dooley. 

“It remains my strong opinion that the county attorney made a serious error rendering this opinion,” McGregor stated in the letter. 

The lawsuit also alleges that the minutes of the Jan. 10 board meeting were not filed in the Bullitt County Clerk’s office as of Feb. 20. 

“...as the minutes of the Board of Trustees are the ‘voice’ of the Board of Trustees, and as these minutes have not been filed...the Plaintiff has no choice but to file this Complaint/Notice of Appeal pursuant to KRS Chapter 75 and accord Chief Dooley a trial/hearing on any violations of KRS 75.130, or to immediately restore him to his position as Chief of the Mount Washington Fire Protection District and provide any and all other relief to insure KRS Chapter 75 is complied with in this matter”

The lawsuit presents only one side of the story.