DC Fire Sued for Race Discrimination

Last Friday, October 15, 2010, 31 DC firefighters filed suit against the department leadership alleging racism and discrimination. The lawsuit claims that black firefighters have been disciplined, treated unfairly, denied promotions, and subjected to a hostile work environment based on race. The group is seeking the court to award them class action status to represent nearly 1000 black DC firefighters.

Named in the lawsuit are the District of Columbia,  Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin, and Assistant Fire Chiefs Lawrence Schultz and Brian Lee. It alleges systematic racial discrimination within the Department, claiming that black employees face harsher discipline, are promoted less often, and confront a hostile work environment imposed by white supervisors.

The lawsuit names at least 10 white firefighters accused or convicted of various misconduct and compares their discipline with that given to black firefighters who committed similar offenses. The suit includes an allegation related to the recently publicized naked cooking incident.

The suit acknowledges the fact that more than half the firefighters in the DC Fire EMS are  African American, but claims that since October 2007 there has been increased incidence of senior white officers creating a climate of fear and intimidation towards black firefighters of all ranks.

The suit claims that "The Department deliberately allowed the predominantly African American 2006 list to expire in order to promote white firefighters" and that in 2010 white officers received “unlawful coaching”.

Here is a copy of the complaint. Download Burton v DC

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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