Pa. Supreme Court: Fire Commissioner Decides When To Fill Vacancies

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Philadelphia Fire Commissioner has discretion in deciding when to promote firefighters and fill positions.

The 3-1 ruling came after a lengthy battle between the city and the firefighters union, IAFF Local 22, over a promotional list that the city allowed to expire while the department had vacancies for captains and lieutenants.

“This confirms what is called ‘managerial prerogative,’” Elise Bruhle, who represented the city in the case, said. “We get to decide when we hire people, when we promote people.”

The fire union is contemplating further legal action.

The city decided not to fill 14 lieutenant and captain vacancies, despite having budgeted the money for it, in 2012 because it was waiting for the firefighters’ promotion list to expire and make promotions using a new list. The union sued and in May 2013, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker ruled in favor of the firefighters and ordered the city to grant the promotions. That ruling was overturned in Commonwealth Court later that year and the union filed another suit. But after reviewing legal arguments from both sides, Tucker dismissed that suit and terminated a stay order, which allowed the city to move on to promote other firefighters.

The union took its appeal to the state Supreme Court and the majority ruled Monday that the city was right.

“Because there is no right to be promoted and no requirement that the City make promotions as soon as positions become vacant, the Commonwealth Court properly concluded that the trial court erred in granting mandamus relief to the Union,” the ruling said.

Local 22 president Andrew P. Thomas issued a statement Tuesday in response to the state Supreme Court’s decision.

“Although we respect the State Supreme Court’s decision regarding the promotions controversy, we firmly disagree with it… The Philadelphia Fire Department’s current promotions policy is completely arbitrary and flies in the face of the intent and spirit of existing Civil Service laws, in which seniority and experience trump favoritism and cronyism,” Thomas said. “We’re exploring all options with our legal team and are hopeful that a new mayoral administration in January will lead to a more fair, balanced and consistent promotions policy within the Fire Department.”

From The Philadelphia Inquirer