MATTOON -- The former assistant chief of the Mattoon Fire Department is suing the city for alleged breach of contract for demoting him to shift captain last fall.
Sean Junge, who stepped down from the fire department on June 27, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in Coles County Circuit Court that seeks compensatory damages of more than $50,000 and an injunction directing the city to reinstate him to the assistant chief position.
On Oct. 16, 2018, the Mattoon City Council voted to eliminate the fire department's assistant chief position due to budgetary constraints cited by city officials and to transfer Junge to fill a vacant shift captain post. Junge had worked 21 years for the fire department prior to leaving his employment with the city.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Junge by attorney Ronald Langacker of Urbana, states that the city had entered into an employment agreement with Junge through which he would serve as assistant fire chief for a four year term commencing on May 21, 2017 and continuing through May 21, 2021.
"By reason of the city's premature termination of (Junge's) contract without any grounds for termination, the city is in breach of said contract," the lawsuit alleges. The suit also contends that Junge has sustained loss of income and inability to secure comparable employment, among other damages, as a result of the city's action.
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The lawsuit also contends that the city violated other rights held by Junge as a contracted employee, under state statutes, and the suit is seeking compensation for court costs and attorney fees incurred by him.
City Administrator Kyle Gill said he had just received a copy of the lawsuit on Friday and had not spoken yet with the city's attorney regarding this matter. Gill declined further comment.
The council eliminated the fire department's assistant chief position as it continues to deal with budget deficit issues officials have attributed to rising pension and other personal costs and to flat revenue growth.
Other cost cutting measures have included the city ending the fire department's ambulance service on July 25, 2018. The long time Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service in Mattoon is the only provider now operating in town.
City officials have said that the fire department's ambulance service lost money and duplicated the work of private providers. Firefighters countered that their service generated needed city revenue and provided essential coverage for Mattoon.