In the summer of 2002, Raymond Littrell, a firefighter with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, met Jessica Niemeyer, who was not a City employee. He engaged in sexual relations with her on numerous occasions at locations including Fire Station 19, where he was assigned. Niemeyer periodically threatened Littrell that she would tell his wife and the Fire Chief about their affair.
On November 2, 2002, Littrell told his wife about his relations with Niemeyer. The next day, Littrell told Battalion Chief Pat Dujakovich, then Captain of Station 19, that he and other firefighters had been having sex at the station and that he refused “to be around it anymore.”
Dujakovich took Littrell to meet with the treasurer of Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who advised Littrell to keep quiet and “wait to see what happens.” Days later, Niemeyer informed the Fire Chief that she and Littrell had been having sex at the station. She did not complain about or allege having sex with any other firefighters or City employees.
Thereafter, Local 42 represented Littrell and negotiated an agreement with the Chief that allowed Littrell to remain employed with the City. Local 42’s president told Littrell that he could possibly be terminated if he did not enter into the agreement. Littrell alleged that Dujakovich told him that “word is you’re going to rat everybody out. You need to think about it. You better take the deal.” On November 29, Littrell signed the agreement, pursuant to which he admitted to misconduct, accepted a demotion and six months’ suspension, and agreed to “release and discharge Local 42, the Kansas City Fire Department, and the City from any claims, actions, suits and/or demands in any way related to this matter.”
After serving his suspension, Littrell returned to duty and began a refresher course at the Fire Academy. Very quickly, he filed a complaint with the City alleging that numerous firefighters had been making threatening comments to him. When the City rejected Littrell’s complaint, he filed a lawsuit alleging (1) that the release he had signed was invalid because it was executed under “duress,” and (2) that he was being retaliated against because of his exercise of his First Amendment rights in discussing the issue of sex on duty at Station 19.
A federal Court of Appeals dismissed Littrell’s lawsuit. The Court first found that the release of Littrell’s claims was binding, and that Littrell was not under duress when he signed it: “The agreement was a result of the parties’ negotiation with the assistance of legal counsel. Littrell argues that the release is invalid, however, because he signed the agreement under duress. Only Dujakovich’s comments to Littrell that he ‘better take the deal’ could remotely qualify as a threat, that it was vague at best and temporally removed from the signing of the agreement. Considering all the surrounding circumstances, we conclude that no reasonable jury could find that the conduct of others prevented Littrell from exercising his free will when he signed the agreement.”
The Court also rejected Littrell’s claim that the “threats” he had received after returning to work and his subsequent transfer from Station 19 to Station 5 constituted unconstitutional retaliation. As viewed by the Court, “Littrell has not set forth any evidence to demonstrate that his speech in November of 2002 motivated the City to engage in its alleged retaliatory conduct in the summer of 2003. As to his placement at Station 5, he concedes that the City made the decision based upon the animosity Littrell might experience from his coworkers at other stations. Littrell had the same concern and has never requested placement at a station other than Station 5.”
Littrell v. City of Kansas City, Missouri, 2006 WL 2456359 (8th Cir. 2006).
This article appears in the November 2006 issue