The village retaliated against eight professional firefighters when it eliminated the paid portion of the fire department last May, according to the state labor department.
Village officials have said the move to an all-volunteer department will save $800,000 in the first year and was necessary to balance the 2016-2017 budget.
But what the village has called a budgetary decision came less than a month after the paid firefighters filed a formal complaint with the state labor department’s Public Employee and Safety Health Bureau, PESH.
The eight paid firefighters maintain that they lost their jobs because of this complaint. Their lawyer, Richard Corenthal, filed the discrimination complaint with the state labor department on their behalf.
The state’s decision, dated Dec. 30, says: “Upon review of the PESH investigative report, the investigative interview summaries and the documentary evidence obtained in the course of the investigation, it is the (state labor) department’s determination that the (volunteer) fire department has behaved in a discriminatory and/or retaliatory manner against the (paid firefighters).”
It was written by state labor department deputy counsel Michael Paglialonga.
Corenthal said in an email that based on the finding, the village should reinstate the paid firefighters who were not dismissed “for legitimate reasons.”
The village said it received the finding Friday and is “considering all of its options, including an appeal” but said in a statement that the “scant four-paragraph decision is devoid of any real substantive reasoning.”
“Rather it finds discrimination in a conclusory manner while it ignores hard facts submitted by the village that completely undermine any suggestion of retaliation,” the village officials said in a statement. “Furthermore, PESH’s investigation did not involve sworn testimony and does not represent a finding by a judicial tribunal, which we are confident would overturn its decision.”
Village board member Bart Didden, who voted in favor of abolishing the paid fire department, said in an email that he was “disappointed” in the labor department’s findings.
“As a participant in the budgetary decision to lay-off the professional firefighters, I had no knowledge of any PESH complaint or investigation, and I gave that statement to the Department of Labor during their investigation,” Didden said. “I had no reason other than the budgetary challenges of the state tax cap legislation to vote the way I did.”
He added that the Labor Department’s finding was “an opinion resulting from an investigation … and the Village has not had an opportunity to defend itself before a judge,which is the American legal system. There is of course an appeal process, and I look forward to telling a judge what was the rationale for my vote.”