FRAMINGHAM, MA -- A series of interrelated litigation matters over the past several months has come to an end with the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirming summary judgment in favor of the City of Framingham and former Police Chief Kenneth Ferguson, who retired in 2018. In two separate lawsuits by a former and current member of the Framingham Police Department, both officers’ claims were dismissed in their entirety. Stuart v. Framingham, 989 F. 3d 29 (1st Cir. 2021), and Gutwill v. Framingham, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 11020 (1st Cir. Apr. 24, 2021).
In similar decisions, the First Circuit held in both cases that the City met its burden to demonstrate that the employment actions taken against the officers would have occurred regardless of the officers’ alleged protected speech. It is important to note that the factual record underlying both decisions was taken as required by the applicable court rules “in the light most favorable” to the officers. Had the cases proceeded to trial instead of being dismissed, different or additional facts exonerating the City and its officials would have been offered at trial. The officers have the opportunity to seek certiorari review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a third suit, Slattery v. Framingham, 1:17-cv-11187, the Court ruled in favor of the City, Chief Ferguson, and former Police Chief Steven Trask, who retired in 2020, in a November 2020 decision dismissing 14 of the 15 counts in the complaint. The Court found that while some of Slattery’s speech at issue was protected under the First Amendment, he had failed to show that his protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the employment actions taken against him. Again, the factual record underlying this decision was viewed “in the light most favorable” to the officer. Had the case proceeded to trial, different or additional facts exonerating the City and its officials would have been offered at trial. After the ruling, the parties filed a Voluntary Stipulation of Dismissal, closing the case.
The Stuart, Gutwill and Slattery cases each were handled by defense counsel John Cloherty of Pierce Davis & Perritano, LLP in coordination with the City Solicitor’s Office.
Lastly, the Department of Labor Relations also ruled in favor of the City on an unfair labor practice charge by the Framingham Police Officers Union, challenging the denial of certain assignments for Officer Gutwill. The Department issued a detailed 43-page decision in March 2021 stating that the City did not violate the law in declining to assign Officer Gutwill to the requested assignments. Framingham had previously defeated a legal challenge by the Union to the Police Chief’s right of assignment in Framingham v. Framingham Police Officers Union, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 537 (2018), in which the Massachusetts Appeals Court held the assignment and deployment of police officers is not subject to arbitration. The City was represented in both of these labor matters by the City Solicitor’s Office.
“I am grateful to the First Circuit, the District Court judges and the Department of Labor Relations hearing officers who spent so much time evaluating these cases to render their decisions,” said Framingham City Solicitor Christopher Petrini. “We are pleased with the nearly universal positive outcome for the City in these matters, which vindicate the actions taken by Chief Ferguson and other City officials, despite the unwarranted criticism these same officials received when the claims initially were asserted. Hopefully they can enjoy their retirement a little more knowing that this long saga finally is behind them.”
“While I am pleased with the successful outcome of these matters, they mainly concern events that took place before my administration, during a period of significant mistrust and strife between management and labor within the Police Department, a climate which I have worked hard with Chief Baker, Chief Trask before him, union leadership and the dedicated employees of the Police Department to change over the past several years,” said Mayor Yvonne M. Spicer. “We were able to successfully negotiate new contracts with both the Framingham Police Officers Union and the Framingham Police Superior Officers Association in 2019 and 2020 without resorting to statutory interest arbitration. Although we face many challenges from the pandemic, I look forward to continuing to build positive relationships with our police force and appreciate all of the hard work they do serving the residents and businesses of Framingham.”
The decisions can be viewed online by CLICKING HERE
Source: Framingham Municipal News and Announcements