Judge upholds demotion of firefighter

Thursday, May 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(MUSKOGEE) - A Muskogee County judge on Wednesday upheld the demotion of a firefighter whom officials disciplined for violating the city's sexual harassment policy.

The firefighters union and the affected captain, Robert K. Conley, asked District Judge Jim Edmondson to rule that the city charter allows for the suspension or termination of a firefighter but not for a demotion.

Edmondson determined that it is more likely than not that the city has the legal power to demote someone.

``The applicant has to show on an injunction that there is likelihood of success on its merits. I'm not impressed,'' Edmondson said of union's complaint before issuing his ruling.

The city argued that the firefighters collective bargaining agreement adheres to the Muskogee Fire Department rules, which allow demotions, and that the city charter doesn't bar firefighters from being demoted.

Conley was notified on Friday that he was being demoted after a month-long investigation into a sexual harassment complaint filed by Amy McKinney, the city's first female firefighter.

McKinney did not allege improper touching but harassment because she is a woman. There was not enough evidence to discipline the other three firefighters included in McKinney's complaint, the city determined.

City Attorney Steve Cousparis told Edmondson that McKinney was on Conley's shift on three occasions and complained of gender-specific verbal comments, discriminatory assignment of duties, failure to provide required guidance and false accusations.

Edmondson also denied temporary injunctions on union complaints, including one alleging that the city's disciplinary letter to Conley did not satisfy requirements of due process and wasn't specific enough about McKinney's complaints against him.

``We'd sure like to know what we're accused of prior to the hearing,'' union attorney D.D. Hayes told the judge.

Edmondson ruled that the city's notification appeared to be fully in accord with the law on a disciplinary action.

``I'm just very disappointed,'' Hayes said after the ruling.

Conley and the union will proceed with a grievance to the Civil Service Commission, Hayes said.

``That's what the judge said is a remedy, so you do what the judge says,'' Hayes said. ``The best thing to do is to get on to a hearing.''