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Decision to fire Somerville firefighter brothers upheld

Posted by Marcia Dick  August 31, 2011 05:44 PM

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The state Civil Service Commission has upheld a decision by the City of Somerville to fire two firefighters, after an investigation found they did not meet a residency requirement that helped them get hired.

The appeal, handed down Aug. 25, also calls into question the practice of employing Somerville police detectives to conduct background investigations of prospective city employees, and criticized the process in which the two were hired.

The city now employs an outside firm to conduct those checks, said city spokesman Michael Meehan in a phone interview.

At the center of the case are Sean and Ryan Layton, sons of firefighter and former fire union president Steven Layton.

The brothers claimed they lived in a Governor Winthrop Road apartment with a third firefighter for a year before they took the civil service examination in April 2008, a state requirement to be considered sooner for a job than other candidates who live outside a municipality.

The decision faulted the city for not taking closer notice of an initial background check that found inconsistencies with the brothers' claim to residency.

Fire Chief Kevin Kelleher was also said to have erred when he, instead of following due diligence, asked the applicants' father, Steven Layton, if there was reason to worry about the residency requirement.

"This is hardly the type of fair, even-handed follow up that was warranted," the decision stated.

The city hiring committee chose to overlook the residency issues, the decision said, and both Laytons were hired as reserve firefighters. Sean Layton, who scored higher on the examination, was almost immediately promoted to a full-time permanent position, the decision said.

The brothers were fired Oct. 28, 2010, only after a second background check of both was performed after Ryan Layton applied for a full-time position, and around the same that separate allegations were raised by another firefighter who suggested their family connections helped them get hired despite not meeting legal requirements.

After a second background check by another Somerville police detective, the brothers were fired by the city.

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