POUGHKEEPSIE – A 17-year veteran of the Poughkeepsie Fire Department has lost a court case appealing a decision terminating his employment. Chris Sekul was terminated by the city over alleged insubordination while fighting a fire on January 3, 2018. The city had brought disciplinary charges to fire him in February of 2018.
At a hearing pursuant to Civil Service Law Article 75, Sekul and his captain provided sharply conflicting testimony as to what occurred on January 3, 2018, according to court documents. In an opinion and recommendation dated May 27, 2018, the hearing officer in the proceeding credited the captain’s testimony and found that a preponderance of the credible evidence supported the conclusion that the petitioner was guilty of insubordination. The hearing officer recommended that Sekul be returned to work without back pay, be suspended for a period of three months without pay and that his employment be on a “last-chance basis” for a period of two years, according to court documents.
After the hearing officer’s decision, City Administrator Marc Nelson sent a letter to Sekul on May 31, 2018, informing him that his prior disciplinary record would be considered before determining a punishment for him. Attached to this letter were the previous disciplinary records being reviewed by Nelson. Sekul responded to the letter. On June 15, 2018, Nelson adopted the insubordination, saying Sekul was incorrigible. Using the prior disciplinary record, Nelson chose to terminate Sekul as a firefighter.
After being fired, Sekul filed a lawsuit against the city in Dutchess County Supreme Court. in October of 2018. The court referred the case to the Supreme Court Appellate Division to review the matter in February of 2019. Sekul’s attorney argued that the prior disciplinary record should not have been considered and the insubordination charges were unfounded.
Late last week the Appellate Court denied Sekul’s petition and dismissed the case, saying in part, “Under the circumstances presented here, the penalty of termination of the petitioner’s employment with the City was not so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness.” When contacted, Sekul said, “The city fought against the transfer to the Appellate Division and their motion was denied,” explaining why it was heard in a different court. The former firefighter said that he and his attorney, Allen Shoikhetbrod, Esq. are considering the lawful opportunities to appeal the latest decision.
The City of Poughkeepsie was represented by the law firm of Drake Loeb for the proceeding.