Firefighter’s Personality, Not Military Service, At Heart Of City’s Decision Not To Promote

Dominick Landolfi works for the Melbourne, Florida Fire Department, and is a reservist with the United States Air Force. Landolfi sued the City, alleging that it discriminated against him because of his military service when it failed to promote him to Battalion Chief in 2006, 2008, and 2010, and to Assistant Chief of Administration in 2010.

The federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Landolfi’s lawsuit. The Court agreed that Landolfi presented sufficient evidence that his military service was a motivating factor in the Fire Department’s promotion decisions. However, the Court also found that “the Fire Department presented sufficient evidence that it would not have promoted Landolfi absent any improper motivation regarding his military service in light of his untrustworthiness and disruptiveness. As the record shows, Landolfi conceded that the Battalion Chief and Assistant Chief of Administration positions required that their occupants work considerably and extensively with each other, and that they hold the Fire Chief’s trust. The job descriptions of both positions corroborate Landolfi’s concessions, and the Chief testified that he felt that the abilities to work with staff, make good decisions, and exercise good judgment were important aspects of the Battalion Chief and Assistant Chief of Administration positions.

“The City presented significant evidence that the Chief, among others, did not believe that Landolfi was trustworthy, made good decisions, exercised good judgment, or could work with others. The Chief and another decision-maker both cited a number of incidents corroborating this belief. While these factors are, as Landolfi argues, subjective, personal qualities heavily factor into employment decisions concerning supervisory positions.

“The City also presented evidence that the Fire Department failed to promote Landolfi because he had comparatively less experience or skills than the successful candidates, or scored lower on each stage of the promotion process. It was undisputed that Landolfi ranked second in all stages of the 2010 Battalion Chief promotion process.

“Landolfi has left unchallenged the City’s evidence that the Chief, among others, believed that Landolfi was not trustworthy, did not make good decisions, did not exercise good judgment, and could not work with others. Those qualities were necessary aspects of the Battalion Chief and Assistant Chief of Administration positions, and, to whatever extent Landolfi presented evidence that his technical qualifications exceeded those of the successful candidates, it is undisputed that those qualifications only established a baseline to ensure the candidate could perform the job. Given Landolfi’s deficiencies, which the successful candidates did not suffer from, the City sufficiently established that no juror could conclude that the Fire Department would have promoted Landolfi absent improper motivations.”

Landolfi v. City of Melbourne, Fla., 2013 WL 1395722 (11th Cir. 2013).