Ridgewood Violates Labor Law, Will Pay Firefighter's Legal Fees
John Albano to receive nearly $5,000 from the village after a state civil service board found the village manager violated the law when he passed Albano over for a promotion to captain in 2011.
A Ridgewood firefighter passed up for a promotion will be reimbursed for his legal bills, the village council voted last Wednesday.
John Albano was unfairly denied a promotion to become a captain at the fire department in 2011 despite his preferential status as a veteran, the NJ State Civil Service ruled last summer.
The council on Wednesday voted 3-1 to pay him $4,853 in legal fees, writing in the resolution it does not "set a precedent."
Two positions as captain for the fire department opened up in 2011. Liuetenants Christopher DuFlocq, Albano and Robert Kozielski were recommended by Fire Chief Jim Van Goor, in that order. Civil Service bylaws stipulate that a veteran gets preference if he tops a list, so Albano would have had to have been selected as the second captain if DuFlocq was selected first.
But Gabbert jumped DuFlocq and Albano to hire Kozielski for the first of the two vacancies, then said he would need to "reinterview" the candidates for the second spot. Evidence shows DuFlocq was never interviewed again, though he was appointed the second captain's job weeks later.
Gabbert provided the Civil Service Commission detailed reasons why he selected Kozielski, both questioning Albano and DuFlocq's attitudes.
"The appointing authority advised that DuFlocq demonstrated a reluctance to support the selection of the most qualified department staff, displayed a misconception as to the role of Volunteer Firefighters and made comments viewed as unsupportive of the current Fire Chief," the civil service ruling states.
The ruling further said that Gabbert contended "that the appellant demonstrated an inflexibility to embrace the current staffing struture and made the statement 'life would be better if we got back to the old ways,' which the appointing authority interpreted to lack long-term thinking, innovation and common sense."
Although Gabbert provided "detailed reasons for bypassing DuFloucq and the appellant in favor of Kozielski, those reasons are contradicted by the evidence in record," the board ruled.
Albano said in his appeal he was never provided with a "statement of reasons for bypassing him for the first vacancy" and alleged his promotion denial was due to Gabbert retaliating for him for union dealings.
The Civil Service Commission ruled Albano didn't provide enough evidence to prove such statements. Gabbert has denied such claims, further stating that Albano's veteran status never came up in interviews at the time.
The Civil Service Commission ultimately ruled last year that Albano be promoted retroactively to captain and receive about $10,000 in backpay. Kozielski then was demoted back to lieutenant.
Just prior to the vote on Wednesday, Councilman Tom Riche bolted from the dais and left the court room. He returned shortly after the vote. Following the meeting, Riche explained his brief absence was due to "stomach problems" and said he had "no opinion" when asked what his vote would have been.
As it turns out, Riche was the one who requested that the payment of Albano's legal bills be removed from the consent agenda and be voted on separately.
Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh said she voted against paying his bills because Albano's legal fees "should have been paid" during the court process, not afterward.
Ridgewood in 2012 lost a civil suit filed by firefighter Kevin Reilly that he was denied a promotion to lieutenant because he blew the whistle on an incident in which claimed he was ordered to enter a building without proper safety gear. His $3.5 million jury award was reduced to $500,000.