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Former Cincinnati fire chief sues the city for wrongful termination

Former Cincinnati Fire Chief Michael Washington in November, 2022.
Zack Carreon
Former Cincinnati Fire Chief Michael Washington in November, 2022.

Former Cincinnati fire chief Michael Washington has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court also names City Manager Sheryl Long and Mayor Aftab Pureval.

Long announced her decision to fire Washington last month, saying he failed to address a hostile work environment toward women. She also cited Washington's absence at an apartment fire in February, his handling of a disciplinary case, ineffective management in acquiring a training center, and overall communication problems.

The wrongful termination lawsuit calls it a "grab bag" of charges that formed the basis of a "public relations campaign" against Washington. The suit says in addition to wrongful termination, Long and Pureval's actions damaged Washington's "good name and professional reputation."

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The fire chief position is classified as an at-will position, meaning the person in that position can be fired without cause or notice. But the city charter says the fire chief can be fired only for cause after serving six months. The charter defines cause to include "incompetency, inefficiency, dishonesty, insubordination, unsatisfactory performance, any other failure of good behavior, any other acts of misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance in office, or conviction of any felony."

The suit asks for damages for back pay, front pay, health insurance benefits, and other employee benefits lost as a result of his termination; payment of contributions that would have been made to the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund from the date of his termination to the date of his mandatory retirement; compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at trial; pre-judgement interest; and attorneys' fees.

Washington was promoted to fire chief in May 2021 by then-city manager Paula Boggs Muething.

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Washington and his attorney did not respond to a request for comment. A city spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The city released documents related to Washington's dismissal here.

Read the full complaint below:

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.