Las Vegas POA

Reinstatement Ordered For Firefighter Terminated For ‘Moral Character’

Written on 01/06/2021
Will Aitchison

To become a City of Plainfield firefighter in New Jersey, applicants are required to prove residency. Christopher D’Amico submitted several documents supporting his Plainfield residency, including a roller hockey alliance insurance card. D’Amico modified the card to include his actual residential address in Plainfield.

According to D’Amico, he revised the card because he did not have additional proof of residency when he was asked for further documentation as part of the pre-employment review process. The City’s hiring committee recommended against hiring D’Amico based on his alteration of the card submitted with his employment application.

However, the City’s Fire Chief decided to hire D’Amico. D’Amico attended the fire academy starting in June 2017. A citizen questioned the residency of several cadets attending the fire academy at that time. As a result, D’Amico’s residency was re-examined in July 2017. During the July re-examination, D’Amico again admitted to altering the card. Ultimately, the concerned citizen’s non-residency allegation regarding D’Amico was deemed to be unfounded.

D’Amico graduated from the fire academy in September 2017. Because D’Amico admitted to altering a residency document, even though the information added to the card was accurate, the City’s Director of Public Safety told the City’s Fire Chief to terminate D’Amico. When D’Amico and two other cadets reported to work on September 11, 2017, they were terminated from their jobs.

D’Amico appealed his termination. The matter was referred to the Office of Administrative Law and assigned to an administrative law judge. The ALJ concluded the City’s termination was improper because D’Amico’s altering the card to include his Plainfield address did not significantly impinge on the character and morals of a firefighter. The ALJ noted D’Amico inserted truthful information regarding his address on the card, which was one of several documents supplied to prove his residency. After considering the testimony and evidence, the ALJ reversed D’Amico’s termination as a City firefighter, reinstated him, and compelled back pay.

When the Civil Service Commission agreed with the ALJ, the City challenged the decision in a New Jersey appeals court. The Court turned away the City’s challenge and ordered D’Amico’s reinstatement.

The Court ruled that “we discern no basis for disturbing the Commission’s decision to reinstate D’Amico to his position as a City firefighter and to award him back pay and benefits. The Commission conducted an independent review of the evidence and examined the ALJ’s decision in light of the evidence. Based on that independent review, the Commission agreed D’Amico ‘was simply lazy in inputting truthful information, and his laziness in completing the information to procure the card did not significantly impinge upon the character and morals of being a firefighter.’ The Commission also accepted the ALJ’s credibility findings. The ALJ found D’Amico to be credible, indicating ‘he only showed me true remorse for what I can only conclude was laziness not moral ineptitude.’

“D’Amico never disputed that he altered the card. In accordance with legal precedent, firefighters are subject to an implicit standard of good behavior. Having reviewed the record, we are satisfied the Commission rendered findings of fact and conclusions of law firmly grounded in the evidence presented. The Commission’s determinations were supported by substantial credible evidence in the record and were neither arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.”

D’Amico v. City of Plainfield, 2020 WL 6123073 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2020).

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