The Supreme Court of Georgia has issued an important ruling that orders the reinstatement of a fire captain terminated two years ago. DeKalb County Fire Captain Sell Caldwell was one of five firefighters terminated after the fire death of 74-year-old Ann Bartlett on January 24, 2010. Recall that companies dispatched to Bartlett’s home for a structure fire claimed they could not locate the address. An investigation revealed that none of the arriving firefighters bothered to get out of their apparatus to investigate before crews returned in service. They were called back to the scene several hours later when the hour was fully involved.
Caldwell contested his termination claiming he was in charge of water supply, and therefore wasn’t tasked with inspecting the home. He also chose to retire to preserve his pension benefit. A hearing officer ordered click herehim to be reinstated. (For the previous story).
The County appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the Merit System Council, asserting that the hearing officer’s factual findings were not consistent with his conclusion. The Merit System Council unanimously upheld the hearing officer’s decision to reverse Caldwell’s termination.
The County refused to reinstate Caldwell, prompting him to file a lawsuit to compel his reinstatement. The trial court upheld the administrative ruling, and the County then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. Among the arguments the County made was that Captain Caldwell surrendered any right to reinstatement when he elected to accept retirement benefits.
The Supreme Court upheld the trial court order that required the County to reinstate Caldwell with back pay. The court found that Captain Caldwell’s acceptance of retirement benefits did not prevent his reinstatement, but acknowledged that the County could deduct retirement benefits paid from the backpay award. The Supreme court also directed to reimburse Caldwell for his attorney fees and costs.
Here is a copy of the decision. Ellis v Caldwell