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Court News Ohio

Former Fairfield County Fire Chief’s Appeal Denied

Former Pleasant Township Fire Chief Jeff Mathias’ attempt to regain the position he held for 16 years has failed. The Fifth District Court of Appeals has upheld a decision by the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas that affirmed the decision of the township trustees to terminate Mathias in 2013 for a racial comment.

The Pleasant Township Board of Trustees voted in August 2013 to fire Mathias for violating policies and procedures after an investigation and hearing that was prompted by complaints that he made a racist comment while on the job.

In the appeals court decision, the three-judge panel overruled Mathias’ 12 assignments of error, including a claim that his due process rights were violated when Acting Fire Chief Andrew Fey was assigned by the trustees to conduct the investigation. In writing the opinion, Judge Craig R. Baldwin noted that nothing in the evidence suggested Fey was biased or had a conflict of interest.

Mathias also contended the trustees improperly considered a December 2012 altercation he had with a firefighter when they decided to fire him because it was not included in Fey’s investigation, and documents were not submitted into evidence at the administrative hearing. Judge Baldwin disagreed and stated, “all three of the voting Trustees were previously involved in the decision to place appellant on probation in December of 2012. Thus, they were personally aware of the incident of December of 2012.”

The appeals court disagreed with Mathias that his termination was not justified.

“Appellant admittedly made a racially derogatory comment. While appellant argues that … other firefighters also made similar jokes, appellant was the Chief of the Fire Department and set the tone and morale for the department as a whole,” Judge Baldwin said.

Joining in the opinion were Judge William B. Hoffman and Judge John W. Wise.

Mathias v. Pleasant Twp. Bd. of Trustees, 2014-Ohio-3019
Civil Appeal From: Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: July 3, 2014

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