Fire fighter properly demoted when position filled by formerly suspended lieutenant

Chad Thompson v. City of Waco, Texas and Fire Chief John D. Johnston, 04-13-00460-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio, May 30, 2014)(transferred from 10th COA pursuant to Supreme Court Order 13-9097).

This is a civil service dispute where the trial court ruled against a fire fighter challenging his demotion. The court of appeals affirmed.

Thompson was a fire equipment engineer who was promoted to lieutenant when an existing lieutenant was indefinitely suspended. The City had 35 lieutenants by ordinance. After a hearing examiner reinstated the former lieutenant, Thompson was demoted back to his prior position. When the City refused his request to be reinstated as a lieutenant, he sued. Thompson and the City filed competing summary judgment motions. The trial court ruled for the City and Thompson appealed.

The analysis is a good walkthrough of various civil service provisions. However, besides reading this summary, the entire case can be summed up on page 4 of the opinion. Once the position was vacated by indefinite suspension, the City was required to fill it. Once reinstated the Chief has “a predicament.”  However, only the City Council can increase the number of positions and  adopting Thompson’s reading would equate to the hearing examiner having the ability to increase positions from 35 to 36. The fire chief interpreted the situation as requiring a force reduction under the Civil Service Act (which he followed) and retained the senior employee (not Thompson). As a result, the trial court properly ruled for the City.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Chief Justice Stone, Justice Barnard, and Justice Alvarez. Opinion by Justice Alvarez. The attorneys listed for the City and fire chief are Lu Pham and Judith N. Benton.  The attorney for Thompson is listed as R. John Cullar.