Firefighter canned for marrying fire captain's daughter

South Carolina city's anti-nepotism policy forbids relatives from working in the same department, even if they're only in-laws

A South Carolina firefighter was fired after he married the daughter of a fire captain.

Matt Cooper, a 25-year-old firefighter in Rock Hill, S.C., lost his job because of a city nepotism rule that forbids relatives, including in-laws, from working in the same department.

Cooper broke the nepotism rule in June when he married Brooke Lowery, the 21-year-old daughter of Capt. Herbie Lowery.

Cooper is fighting the city’s policy, but lost his job in July after a judge refused to let him keep his job while the court battle raged. As soon as the judge made his ruling, Cooper was fired by the chief.

“It’s not a good sign when they come out and tell you to take your gear off the truck,” Cooper told the Rock Hill Herald.. “It’s unbelievable it has come to this. Today is probably the worst day in my whole entire life. I’m still kind of in shock. Two and a half years of my life, gone. Down the drain. I don’t get how law can work like that.”

In refusing to order the city to keep Cooper on the job, the court said his chance of success in the lawsuit were “minimal.”

“The city’s anti-nepotism policy is clear, does not appear to violate any of Cooper’s asserted rights and the city has an absolute right to terminate any employee at will for any reason or no reason at all absent a contract or handbook that alters the employment at will status,” said the court.

But Cooper isn’t alone in his fight. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has said it will pay the costs of Cooper’s lawsuit.

“The IAFF is very disappointed with this decision to allow such an intrusion into the personal lives of the people by their government,” said IAFF general president Harold Schaitberger in a press release. “Rock Hill will lose an excellent, committed firefighter because of an anti-family policy that should not be allowed to stand. We will keep fighting for Matt Cooper by pursuing every legal angle possible.”

In his suit, Cooper has claimed he is not an immediate family member of the fire captain and that other city employees work in the same department as relatives.

Rock Hill is a city of about 55,000 people located about 30 kilometres south of Charlotte, N.C.

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