A Massachusetts Environmental Police Officer (“EPO”) with the foresight to have joined the Massachusetts Police Association’s Legal Defense Fund found out just how valuable a resource the Fund is after being terminated from his EPO positon, and then being abandoned by his Union when he wanted to challenge that termination.
Soleimani was sworn in by the Massachusetts Environmental Police (“MEP”) as an EPO in May 2015, and, because he was a former Westfield police officer with academy safety training, he was not required to attend an additional police academy before performing his duties as an EPO. After working more than six months, Soleimani believed he had completed his probationary period under G.L. c. 31, §34.
Despite having no discipline issued against him and his most recent review in December indicating he was exceeding expectations, on April 21, 2016, Soleimani was summoned to Boston by his superiors for a meeting the next day. When Soleimani reported to Boston, the MEP personnel present requested that he resign. When Soleimani refused, he received a letter dated April 22, 2016 that stated simply that MEP was informing him that they “would not be extending [his] employment with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts” and stated that his last day would be on the same day. Soleimani was not provided with any information regarding his termination, despite inquiring several times, other than what was provided in the letter. The letter did not comply with the provisions of G.L. c. 31 § 41.
MEP claimed, without any legal authority, it was, “[o]perating on its belief that EPOs, like police officers employed by cities and towns, have a one (1) year probation period”, and therefore it was not required to provide Soleimani with the protections afforded tenured employees by G.L. c. 31, § 41. When Soleimani turned to his Union for support in challenging the improper probationary period, it informed him that it would not represent him or provide him legal counsel in the matter because it was contrary to the Union’s interest to argue for the six month probationary period.
Soleimani believed that he was left on his own and initially thinking that he had to hire private counsel, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars, or represent himself. Fortunately for Soleimani he had another option, which also is available to any MPA member. Just months prior to being told he was being terminated, Soleimani had joined the MPA Legal Defense Fund for a mere $250.00. As a member at the time of the incident, he was entitled to representation against the improper and misguided interpretation of Massachusetts law by the MEP. Soleimani made the call to the law firm of Reardon, Joyce & Akerson, P.C. and was immediately put into contact with attorney John K. Vigliotti. Attorney Vigliotti immediately began working on his appeal to the Civil Service Commission to challenge MEP’s violation of his statutorily protected rights. The MEP moved for summary decision, asking the Civil Service Commission to dismiss Soleimani’s appeal, but Soleimani opposed it and asked for a ruling that he was entitled to the protection of the civil service laws as a tenured employee.
On September 1, 2016, the Civil Service Commission issued its decision that Soleimani was a tenured employee at the time of his termination and was entitled to all of the due process protections in Section 41 of the civil service law and that MEP improperly terminated Soleimani. The Commission ordered Soleimani restored to his employment immediately without loss of compensation or other rights which will result in a significant award of back pay.
The case established that until such time as the Legislature establishes a specific probationary period for Environmental Police Officers, the six month probationary period referenced in c. 31, § 34 applies.
Read the decision of the Soleimani case.