One step closer to justice in Florida wrongful termination case 

Under the IAFF Guardian Policy, the IAFF is working hard to reinstate a Florida fire fighter who was wrongfully terminated for conducting union business.

June 28 • 2024

A closely watched arbitration hearing regarding the termination of a Niceville, FL Local 5301 member will move forward despite the city administration’s attempts to stop it. 

“This is a huge win in the first round of the IAFF’s battle against the City of Niceville,” IAFF General Counsel Peter Leff said. “Local 5301 member Timothy Sallee was wrongfully terminated for engaging in union and First Amendment-protected activities. The IAFF will not stop until justice is served.” 

The case stems from a contentious set of contract negotiations in late 2023 and is an important test of First Amendment rights.  
“Our city manager, David Deitch, made his dislike for the union clear, which included threats of terminating jobs,” said Sallee, who was on the negotiations team. “People often get passionate during negotiations, so we just continued to bargain in good faith. But one night, he said he wanted to speak to me after the meeting and fired me.” 
Local 5301 filed a grievance for wrongful termination in December 2023 when the city administration failed to produce a reason for the disciplinary action. The grievance was denied, so the Local filed for arbitration. 

General President Edward Kelly then approved the case for coverage under the IAFF Guardian Policy. This policy provides legal representation from the IAFF General Counsel to protect union leaders subjected to retaliation for engaging in union-related activities or speaking out on matters of public concern. 

The IAFF is filing a federal lawsuit claiming Sallee’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was terminated for speaking up on behalf of his fellow union members during contract negotiations.  

Niceville officials sought an injunction against the grievance arbitration and followed that with a request for a restraining order against Sallee, seeking to bar him from attending union business-related meetings at the firehouse. 
The IAFF, on behalf of the Local and Sallee, responded by moving to dismiss both actions and proceed with the arbitration.  

The Circuit Court for the First Judicial Circuit in Okaloosa County ruled in the IAFF’s favor on both issues June 14. This puts the arbitration proceedings currently scheduled for August back on track. 
“All we want is for our member to be treated fairly,” Local 5301 President Travis Zaal said. “The IAFF has been by our side every step of the way, and we know they will be there until this case is resolved.”