Ex-fire association whistleblower wins dismissal decision

ALBANY — A former top New York State Firefighters Association official was awarded $369,000 by a judge who ruled last week that the organization breached his contract when it fired him without notice. motive three years ago after he complained about alleged financial troubles. irregularities.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Denise A. Hartman, who ordered the association to pay the judgment, also refused to dismiss a retaliation request filed by former official David Quinn, who began working for the statewide fire organization in 1991 and was named chief. Administrative Officer in 2003. Quinn had formerly served as Chief of the South Schodack Fire Department in Rensselaer County.

He had alleged that the organization’s top officials used credit cards without prior authorization, as required, and that grant funds were distributed to a Columbia County Fire Museum without vouchers, which violated the regulations of the ‘Non-profit organization.

A month after Quinn was fired in February 2019, the organization delivered a letter to him outlining a proposed separation agreement that included severance but with stipulations including a confidentiality clause and his immediate resignation as treasurer of the Association Firefighting Museum in Hudson. After Quinn refused to sign the release which included a confidentiality clause – which would have prohibited him from publicly disclosing the complaints he had filed – the organization refused to pay his severance package.

In the ruling that found the organization breached its employment contract with Quinn, the judge scheduled a trial in June for Quinn’s retaliation claim, which includes allegations that the organization’s leaders issued to Quinn received a negative performance review and eventually terminated her employment after reporting the policy violations.

“David Quinn was an honest and good firefighter and leader of FASNY,” said his attorney, Kevin A. Luibrand. “This court ruling opens the account for FASNY and those at FASNY who tried to silence him.”

A spokesperson for the firefighters association, which celebrated its 150th anniversary this year, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

In her decision, the judge noted that Quinn, who had applied for whistleblower protection, had his employment contract renewed without issue in August 2018. But he apparently began to fall out of favor within the organization. the following month after reporting that executives were using the association. credit cards without prior authorization – a violation of their policies. He did not allege making improper purchases.

In October 2018, a month after her complaint was filed, Quinn received a negative performance review – which was an anomaly in her career with the organization, according to her complaint.

In February 2019, Quinn sent an email to members of the association’s board of directors detailing further his concerns about violations of tax policies and administrative guidelines, including two vice presidents’ use of credit cards. business credit without prior authorization and subsidy payments without proof to the fire museum. .

The next day, the board held an executive session where they discussed a ‘climate assessment’ which quizzed employees on working conditions and reportedly revealed concerns about Quinn’s treatment of employees. .

During that February board meeting, Laurie Hance indicated that “she felt she was treated differently (by Quinn) than male board members,” according to court records. The judge called Hance’s statement “unsubstantiated.”

In a related case in 2018, a terminated employee who gave an exit interview said she felt Quinn had “abused her because of her gender and made remarks about her receiving gifts in exchange for sexual favours,” according to court records.

The board then voted to fire Quinn without cause. According to Steve E. Klein, who was president of the organization at the time, the board chose to terminate Quinn without cause so that it would be effective immediately and he would not have an opportunity to address or remedy to the reasons which led to its termination, indicates the judge’s decision.

“The court finds that the circumstances and timing surrounding the plaintiffs’ dismissal raise questions of fact regarding the existence of just cause and not retaliation for his dismissal,” she wrote.

The Firefighters Association, founded in 1872, helps provide education and training to volunteer firefighter organizations in New York City. It also has a lobbying arm that represents the interests of approximately 110,000 volunteer firefighters across the state. Earlier this year, for example, the organization touted legislation it had supported and was enacted banning the use of toxic carcinogenic flame retardant chemicals found in electronics enclosures, household items and furniture, to which firefighters may be exposed in the performance of their duties. .

Andrew B. Reiter