Minneapolis Fire Captain Fails To Prove Anti-Union Bias

Kathy Davison is a captain with the Minneapolis Fire Department, and has been a member of Local 82 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. In Fall 2002, Davison began actively opposing the Fire Chief’s proposal to close two ladder companies. Davison was appointed head of Local 82’s committee working on the issue, attended a number of public meetings at which the Fire Chief was also present, and spoke in opposition to the proposed cuts. At one of the meetings, Davison contradicted the Chief’s assertion that he would station County ambulances where the ladder trucks had been stationed, arguing that the Chief did not have the authority to do so.

Following one of the meetings, the Chief approached Local 82’s president and told him that he was “upset with the Union, and in particular Captain Davison, for our position against the ladder closures and layoffs. The Chief approached me and stated, ‘You really need to get control of your Board. Davison and her son were at a neighborhood meeting.’ The Chief was visibly upset regarding the comments Davison made at the meeting when he made this statement to me.”

In 2002 and 2003, three of the four fire investigators for the Department retired, resulting in positions for three new fire investigators. Davison was one of three candidates interviewed by an oral board. None of the interviewers were aware that Davison had headed Local 82’s committee opposed to the closing of the ladder companies. The interviewers rated Davison third among the three candidates.

When the first inspector opening occurred, the Chief appointed the individual receiving the second highest interview score. When the second opening occurred, an additional applicant was interviewed, and the Chief appointed the individual who received the highest interview score. When the third inspector opening occurred, another candidate was added to the interview panel and received the highest interview score of the three candidates. The Chief appointed this individual to the inspector position.

Davison then brought a lawsuit, alleging that her First Amendment rights were violated because the Chief retaliated against her for her activities on Local 82’s behalf. A federal District Court dismissed Davison’s lawsuit.
The Court found an absence of hard facts justifying Davison’s claims. The Court observed that beyond the “bare allegations of anti-union animus against her, little evidence exists to demonstrate an anti-union bias against Davison. Davison’s only direct evidence demonstrating the Chief’s alleged bias consists of him telling the Union president that he needed to get his people under control, and then referencing Davison. This is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Chief was biased against Davison because of her union activity.

“Additionally, there is no dispute that the fire investigator interviews were fairly conducted. None of the interviewers were aware of Davison’s union activities. Furthermore, neither of the Union representatives who attended the interviews raised any concerns about the fairness of the interviews. No grievance was filed about the process. Finally, virtually all members of the Fire Department belong to the Union, including the successful candidates for fire investigator. Therefore, it cannot be argued that Davison was passed over in favor of a non-union member.”

Davison v. City of Minneapolis, 2006 WL 980814 (D.Minn. 2006).

This article appears in the July 2006 issue