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KNIGHTON v. CITY OF SYRACUSE FIRE DEPT.

May 15, 2001

WILLIS KNIGHTON, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CITY OF SYRACUSE FIRE DEPARTMENT AND JAMES L. CUMMINGS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CHIEF OF THE CITY OF SYRACUSE FIRE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Chief Judge.

SUMMARY ORDER

Plaintiff Willis Knighton asserts the following claims against the City of Syracuse Fire Department and James L. Cummings, the former Chief of the Fire Department: (1) violation of Plaintiffs Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983;*fn1 (2) discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq; and (3) state law claims for violation of Article 1, Sections 8 and 11 of the New York State Constitution.*fn2

Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn3 The Court heard oral argument in support of, and in opposition to, that motion on April 27, 2001. At that time, the Court rendered a decision on all aspects of Defendants' motion and, for the reasons set forth on the record as well as those discussed below, the Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

A. Due Process

"[T]o prevail on a due process claim, a plaintiff must identify a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest. . . ." Schlesinger v. New York City Transit Auth., No. 00 CIV. 4759, 2001 WL 62868, *6 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2001) (citation omitted). The plaintiff must then show that he has been deprived "of that interest without due process of law." Id. (citation omitted).

Plaintiff has not provided the Court with information sufficient to find that he maintained a liberty or property interest in his employment. Even assuming that Plaintiff had provided such information, the Court finds that Plaintiff is unable to satisfy the second prong of the analysis by showing that he was deprived of a liberty or property interest without due process of law.

Plaintiff contends that Defendants violated his due process rights when they administered drug tests pursuant to the Experimental Drug Policy. In particular, Plaintiff points to the fact that the Policy was not signed by the Local 280 Union or the City and, thus, contends that he did not have notice of the applicability of the Policy.*fn4

Although Plaintiff argues that the Experimental Drug Policy was not in force because it was unsigned, he does not contend that the 1994-97 Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") was not in force even though that document is also unsigned. Rather, Plaintiff relied upon the unsigned CBA when he grieved his termination through the arbitration clause of that agreement.*fn5 Moreover, during the arbitration proceeding, Local 280, which represented Plaintiff, never disputed the legality of the Experimental Drug Policy or its applicability to Plaintiff.*fn6 See Pachecho Aff. at Exh. F.

In addition, the 1994-97 CBA specifically addressed drug testing. It provides, in relevant part, the following:

The parties have in practice an experimental drug testing agreement, a copy of which is attached as an Exhibit. The parties agree that this experimental drug testing agreement will continue and be in full force and effect through December 31, 1997.

See Pl's Response to Statement of Material Facts at Exh. B.

For reasons unknown to this Court, Local 280 and the City apparently have a history of not signing documents such as the CBA and the Experimental Drug Policy. However, as evidenced by the fact that Plaintiff was provided with an arbitration hearing pursuant to the terms of the CBA, it appears that Local 280 and the City have abided by the terms of these documents. Thus, the Court finds that it was proper for Defendants to enforce the Experimental Drug Policy and that Plaintiff did have notice of that policy.

The Court further finds that even if Plaintiff was correct in claiming that the Experimental Drug Policy was not in force and that he had a right to notice of potential drug testing, Plaintiff still had adequate notice of the potential for testing. It is important to note that during his deposition, William Hicks, one of Plaintiffs co-workers and the former President of FOCUS, testified that "[b]efore we had our experimental policy there was a no tolerance position that the City had for substance abuse and [the] City dealt with it internally." See Hicks Tr. at 30. Hicks further testified that pursuant to this "no tolerance position," firefighters "would not be shown any leniency as far as drugs were concerned." See id. at 31. Moreover, during oral argument, Plaintiffs counsel represented that Plaintiff had actual knowledge of the Policy.

It is also clear that Plaintiffs termination process occurred in accordance with the applicable CBA, the Experimental Drug Policy and the Settlement Agreement.*fn7 Accordingly, the Court grants Defendants' motion for ...


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