Swedish Firefighter Wins Reverse Discrimination Suit

Employment discrimination suits have become an unfortunate commonplace in the American fire service. Roughly two out of every 5 suits involving fire departments is a discrimination suit, with aproximately 40% of those being reverse discrimination cases.

In Sweden, a man seeking a summer job as a firefighter made unusual headlines last summer when he sued a fire department alleging he was wrongfully passed over due to unlawful set asides intended for women and “people with foreign backgrounds”.

Last spring, Simon Wallmark applied for a summer job with the Södertörns Brandförsvarsförbund (SBFF) fire department, a suburban department outside of Stockholm. Wallmark had previous experience as firefighter, had undergone vocational training and was fully qualified for the job. He was not selected, with the stated reason being that the jobs were “reserved for women and people with foreign backgrounds”.

The department ended up selecting 32 recruits for the job, out of which 10 did not meet the stated required education standards. The Center for Justice, a nonprofit organization that takes up meritorious causes in Sweden, agreed to represent Wallmark, and filed suit in July, 2011 against the department alleging discrimination.

The suit sought 100,000 kronor, or roughly $16,000, in damages. Last Wednesday, after several hours of court supervised negotiations, the fire department agreed to pay Wallmark the entire 100,000 kronor he demanded.

“This is an important signal that it’s illegal to give people special treatment due to their gender or ethnic background,” said Wallmark’s attorney, Clarence Crafoord. The fire department issued a press release indicating its intent to continue to “increase diversity and equality” in a way that will “better reflect society”.

More on the story.


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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