UNION WINS DEFAMATION LAWSUIT
BROUGHT BY FORMER FIRE CHIEF
Henry A. Arnett
Livorno and Arnett Co., LPA
1335 Dublin Road, Suite 108-B
Columbus, Ohio 43215
The Twelfth District Court of Appeals on July 26, 2010 affirmed the decision of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Bernard Becker III, the former Fire Chief of Clearcreek Township, against Local 4207 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Local 4207 is the union representing firefighters employed by Clearcreek Township.
Mr. Becker claimed in his lawsuit that the Local committed defamation against him when it submitted a letter to a Township official in February, 2008, alleging that Chief Becker had inappropriately touched employees, peeped at employees while they were in a state of undress, made inappropriate sexual comments, and otherwise abused his authority. The letter was supplied to a Township official after that official, having been told of some of the allegations, requested that those allegations be placed in writing. The letter requested that the Township conduct an investigation into the incidents.
Mr. Becker could have requested a hearing on any charges that might have resulted from an investigation if the Township wanted to take disciplinary action against him. Instead, he voluntarily resigned his position as fire chief, but then filed the lawsuit against the Local for defamation.
On February 24, 2010, the Court of Common Pleas entered summary judgment in favor of the Local and against Mr. Becker. The Court noted that the letter was prepared by a Local official with the assistance of several other individuals, and that the letter was based upon incidents recalled by those individuals, or set forth incidents that were witnessed and recalled by other individuals and which were brought to the Local’s attention by the witnesses to those incidents.
The Court also noted that the Local had supported its motion for summary judgment with affidavits from witnesses swearing to the truth of the incidents set forth in the February, 2008, letter. In fact, 17 people had supplied affidavits stating that they had been the victim of Becker’s inappropriate conduct or had witnessed the incidents recounted in the Local’s letter. While Mr. Becker contended that each of the witnesses was lying, the Court indicated this contention was not enough to support a claim for defamation against the Local. The Court stated the following: “Plaintiff must refer the Court to some circumstance appearing in the record that would show that the Union entertained serious doubts about the truth of the allegations when the letter was written. He has failed to do this.” Accordingly, the Court entered summary judgment for the Local, and the lawsuit brought by Mr. Becker was dismissed.
Former Chief Becker filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals. He fared no better with the Court of Appeals. On July 26, 2010, the Court of Appeals ruled that he could not as a matter of law prevail in his case against the Local and upheld the dismissal of his lawsuit.