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Firefighters Don’t Have Case After Pride Parade

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) - The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled against a pair of Catholic firefighters who were forced to man the truck in a Pride Parade.

Theodore Fabrizio Jr. and Stephen Deninno were a firefighter and a captain, respectively, when their house, Engine Co. No. 7, received orders in June 2001 to drive a fire truck in the Pride Parade.

Though the men complained to their chief that they were uncomfortable, as Catholics, with the assignment, they were denied relief and reluctantly joined the crew in the parade.

Claiming that their participation in the parade subjected them to sexual harassment, including "sexual propositions and other offensive remarks," as well as "at least 60 profanity-laced anonymous phone calls," Fabrizio and Deninno filed suit in 2004 against Providence, former Mayor Vincent Cianci Jr. and former fire chief James Rattigan.

Cianci and Rattigan asserted qualified immunity in 2012, but the Providence County Superior Court denied their motion for summary judgment.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court unanimously reversed on Dec. 19, however, after finding the assertion of qualified immunity unnecessary since no constitutional violation occurred.

"The respondents' participation in the parade as public servants carrying out a legitimate work assignment was not a deprivation of their constitutional rights," Justice William Robinson wrote for the court.

Monahan v. Girouard, a 2006 state Supreme Court decision, is controlling, according to the 10-page opinion.

As in that case, "since there was no deprivation of a constitutional right, our analysis rightly can come to an abrupt halt since 'the need for [invocation of the doctrine of qualified immunity] no longer exists,'" Robinson wrote.

No pertinent legal authority exists to support "the proposition that, in such specific circumstances, employees' rights are violated if they happen to possess religious objections to the beliefs of the group with which an otherwise legitimate work assignment requires brief interaction," according to the ruling.

"The respondents' appearance in the parade, solely as members of the Providence Fire Department, did not constitute a form of expression on their part," Robinson wrote. "Rather, it was simply the accomplishing of a task assigned to an engine company of the Providence Fire Department, and the individuals chosen to carry out that assignment cannot be said to have engaged in personal speech by carrying out their work as public servants."

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