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Doyle Dennis LLP Vs. Port of Houston

Doyle Dennis LLP’s attorneys have filed suit to protect the rights of six Port of Houston Firefighters Union Members, who were victims of wrongful termination, in violation of the United States Constitution and Texas law.

The Port Firefighter Union leaders were proud to protect their community as firefighters for the Port of Houston Authority, with a combined tenure of over 60 years of dedicated service.  They together constituted nearly the entire leadership of the International Association of Fire Fighters (“IAFF”) Local 1316 at Port Houston, including the President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary.

The Port Firefighter Union leaders regularly participated in the activities of IAFF Local 1316, including speaking out for the union and its members regarding matters of public interest and concern. The Port Firefighter Union leaders spoke out and engaged in collective efforts with the Port Houston regarding firefighters’ compensation, schedules, and discipline mismanagement. William Buck, the Fire Chief of Port Houston, and others in the upper administration at Port Houston, actively opposed these measures and efforts by the Port Firefighter Union leaders.

In addition, the Port Firefighter Union leaders also spoke out regarding issues of public safety, including the implementation of an Active Shooter Hostile Event Response program (ASHER). In particular, the IAFF recommended this program for the protection of firefighters through providing them body armor and emergency trauma equipment to respond to ongoing hostile events. Similarly, the Port Firefighter Union leaders also spoke out regarding health concerns that arose from a cement plant that Port Houston had instituted next to Fire Station 2. In part, by speaking out regarding these important public safety issues, the Port Firefighter Union leaders were able to assist in remedying this hazard. Indeed, Port Houston ultimately created a second “dust free” cement facility.

Based upon this background, the suit alleges:  in an attempt to stifle and deter the Constitutional rights of the Port Firefighter Union leaders and other firefighters working for Port Houston, Chief Buck and Chief Port Security and Emergency Operations (“PSEO”) Officer Marcus Woodring (together, Defendants”) retaliated against and terminated the Port Firefighter Union leaders from their employment at Port Houston. Defendants took this retaliatory action against the Port Firefighter Union leaders for exercising their Constitutional and lawful rights to freely associate and engage in protected speech, in violation of the rights safeguarded under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Texas law. These actions essentially decapitated the Port Firefighters Union leadership in one fell swoop.

To remedy Defendants’ wrongful conduct, the Port Firefighter Union leaders filed this lawsuit against William Buck, individually, and Marcus Woodring, individually. Because Defendants have violated federal law, the Port Firefighter Union leaders seek damages against Defendants in their individual capacity for their violations of the Port Firefighter Union leaders’ First and Fourteenth amendment rights, as protected by 42 U.S.C §1983.

In addition, the Port Firefighter Union leaders have filed an application for equitable relief to remedy Defendants’ unlawful conduct. The suit alleges ultra vires actions by state officials, including taking disciplinary action without following the requirements set forth by the Texas Legislature for protection of first responders.

In particular, Texas law mandates the following requirements before the illegal disciplinary action to be restrained herein may be taken:

  1. Gov’t Code § 614.022 mandates that “[t]o be considered by the head of a state agency or by the head of a fire department or local law enforcement agency, the complaint must be: (1) in writing; and (2) signed by the person making the complaint.”
  1. Similarly, Tex. Gov’t Code § 614.023, states as follows: (a) A copy of a signed complaint against a law enforcement officer of this state or a fire fighter, detention officer, county jailer, or peace officer appointed or employed by a political subdivision of this state shall be given to the officer or employee within a reasonable time after the complaint is filed. (b) Disciplinary action may not be taken against the officer or employee unless a copy of the signed complaint is given to the officer or employee. (c) In addition to the requirement of Subsection (b), the officer or employee may not be indefinitely suspended or terminated from employment based on the subject matter of the complaint unless: (1) the complaint is investigated; and (2) there is evidence to prove the allegation of misconduct.

Defendants refused to follow these mandatory requirements, refusing even after request to provide a written complaint; identify a complainant; within a reasonable time.  In light of these violations of Texas law, Port Firefighter Union leaders requested that the Court enter a declaratory judgment and declare as follows:

  1. Port Houston violated Tex. Labor Code §§ 101.001, 101.052, and 101.301 and Texas Government Code § 617.004. by terminating and then reinstating on administrative leave the Plaintiffs.
  1. Port Houston violated Texas Government Code Sections 614.023 and 614.022 because it failed to provide the Port Firefighter Union leaders with copy of the complaint(s), which formed the basis for the terminations and suspensions, within a reasonable time after that complaint was filed.

The Port Firefighter Union leaders further requested that the Court enter a preliminary and final injunction and enter a temporary and permanent restraining order, as follows:

  1. Defendants be restrained and enjoined from taking adverse employment action against the Port Firefighter Union leaders related to the complaints, which formed the basis for the terminations and suspensions of the Plaintiffs because Defendants failed to provide them with the complaint within a reasonable time after that complaint was filed.
  1. Defendants be restrained and enjoined from taking adverse employment action against the Port Firefighter Union leaders related to their union activity as protected by Tex. Labor Code §§ 101.001, 101.052, and 101.301 and Texas Government §Code 617.004.
  1. Defendants be ordered to cease and desist from continuing to deprive the Port Firefighter Union leaders of their legal rights, and from continuing to interfere with and infringe upon their rights

Finally, Port Firefighter Union leaders further requested that the Court grant its petition for mandamus and order the following:

  1. Defendants expunge and correct all files to eliminate any reference to Plaintiffs’ termination or suspensions, as well as any infractions they were cited for during their employment arising from the claims herein;
  1. Defendants reinstate Plaintiffs to their positions and remove them from administrative leave.

Finally, Plaintiffs requested award their costs and reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees.

Doyle Dennis LLP is proud to represent these firefighters and union members, who have dedicated their lives to public service.  If you have been subjected to wrongful or discriminatory work practices, including wrongful termination or suspension, contact the lawyers at Doyle Dennis LLP for a no-charge initial evaluation of your claim.

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