A federal judge has declined to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Windsor fire captain who claims he was terminated unfairly after getting into a drunken fight with a fellow captain.
The Windsor Fire Protection District had sought to dismiss the suit filed by Troy Collier, who was fired in 2007 as the result of a fight that broke out in a limousine packed with firefighters returning from an awards banquet.
The fight started after Collier put his arm around the wife of Capt. Ron Busch and she complained of being touched inappropriately.
Collier, the stepson of Windsor Fire Chief Ron Collier, denied any improper touching. In his lawsuit filed last year he claimed there was no evidence he was the aggressor, yet he lost his job while his colleague, by comparison, was "lightly disciplined."
In a ruling issued Sept. 30, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for Northern California, declined to dismiss the majority of Troy Collier's claims, as sought by the fire district.
Collier, 43, alleges that his due process rights were violated because he did not receive adequate notice of all the charges against him before he was fired; that his superior officers were not adequately trained for conducting the hearing that resulted in his termination; and they violated his privacy by disclosing damaging information from his personnel file that was false.
He also complained that his free speech rights were violated because his firing was in retaliation for his union activities representing firefighters in "bitter" contract negotiations.
The judge's ruling did not weigh the evidence of Collier's claims, but basically allows the lawsuit to proceed.
"The court order denying Windsor Fire Protection District's motion to dismiss the federal civil rights causes of action allows the case to remain in federal court, where those causes of action will be adjudicated on their merits," said Michael S. Biggs, Collier's attorney.
The attorney representing the fire district on Monday downplayed the judge's ruling. "The court is not saying any of this is true," said William Gorham III.
Gorham said the judge is simply saying that if Collier's allegations are proven, "it's plausible to have a claim."
The federal court is scheduled to sift through some of the evidence in April before deciding whether the case will go to a jury trial.
"It's a little early to be declaring victory by anybody," Gorham said.
Collier's lawsuit detailed a Feb. 24, 2007 altercation that began in a limousine with 15 passengers carrying firefighters and their wives or girlfriends.
Both captains had their wives with them.
The "drunk revelers," as described in the lawsuit, were enroute to a downtown pub after an awards dinner at the Windsor Golf Club when Collier put his arm around Busch's wife and a fight ensued.
Mrs. Busch claimed she was fondled and signaled to her husband for help. The two men exchanged words before the confrontation became physical and spilled out into a bank parking lot when the limo stopped.
Collier claimed Busch was the aggressor, but several witnesses also described Collier advancing toward Busch and throwing punches as Busch backed away.
Windsor Police looked into the matter, but no charges were filed.
The district decided Collier should be fired based on "inappropriate physical contact" with Busch's wife and the escalation of the conflict outside the limousine.
But an arbitrator last year ruled in Collier's favor after a two-day hearing, advising that he be reinstated with back pay to his $104,000-a-year job (including overtime), or be given a financial settlement. But the ruling was not binding and Collier was not reinstated.
In his lawsuit, he is seeking unspecified actual and punitive damages from the fire district and its board of directors. The suit also names Chief Collier and two battalion chiefs who oversaw the investigation that resulted in the firing.
On Monday a spokesman for the fire district declined comment on the judge's ruling.
Two years ago, shortly after his stepson was fired, the chief posted a statement on the district's Web site expressing regret that the incident had occurred.
The chief said it had diverted attention from many good things happening at the fire department, including doubling of staff, and said the department remained committed to the safety of the community and its personnel.