Brian Baker, Brian Jenkins, Gary Jenkins, and Brandon Jenkins were all volunteer firefighters for the City of Stanford, Kentucky. In 2006, they became concerned about the safety and reliability of the equipment being used by the Department. Their concerns included a lack of testing on hoses, a rusted-out battery compartment on a fire engine, faulty wiring systems for engine windshield wipers and headlights, a malfunctioning air tank, and a leaking fuel tank.
After being dissatisfied with the response of the Fire Chief to their complaints, they met with Mayor William Miracle to register various complaints about the Fire Chief, including his “unprofessionalism, his lack of showing up to work, and his lack of knowledge for the fire service.” The result of their complaints was that the City fired three of the four firefighters, and the fourth resigned.
The firefighters sued, contending that their terminations were in violation of their due process rights to the job. A federal court disagreed, and rejected their due process claim.
The Court observed that the firefighters “presupposed the existence of a protectable interest that they simply do not possess. Generally speaking, volunteers do not have property interests in their positions, and thus do not have a constitutional right to due process. The firefighters had no property interest in their volunteer positions which could support any claim for a due process hearing.
“Their volunteer status also negates any claim to a protectable liberty interest. To be sure, when a state’s adverse employment decision challenges the employee’s good name, reputation, honor or integrity, notice and opportunity to be heard are essential. However, reputation alone, apart from some more tangible interest such as employment, is neither ‘liberty’ nor ‘property’ sufficient to invoke the procedural protection for the due process clause. Because the firefighters have failed to identify a protectable property or liberty interest, there is no need to determine exactly what process is due for purposes of their constitutional claims.”
Baker v. McDaniel, 2009 WL 2710099 (E.D. Ky. 2009).
This article appears in the October 2009 issue