Miami Beach Race Sex Discrimination Claim

The Miami Beach Fire Department’s settlement with a black firefighter recruit who claims he was harassed by white co-workers moved one step closer to resolution last week with the release of an investigation report.

Brian Gentles alleges that he was racially and sexually harassed in 2011 and early 2012. The allegations include being told “go back to Africa,” that a noose “would look good around your neck,” being called “n—–” and “faggot,” having a co-worker’s testicles placed on his face, and having a broomstick shoved up his buttocks.

Gentles claims that when he complained to superiors about the conduct he was terminated. That prompted a 15 page complaint to the EEOC demanding $5.3 million in damages, lost wages and attorney’s fees.

In September, the city offered to settle the case for $100,000 and a job offer for Gentles to work as an inspector. Gentles originally accepted the offer, but later appeared to renege on it, going so far as to threaten to go on a hunger strike in November to get his firefighter job back.

Last week, the city released the report of Steven Schwarzberg who was hired to investigate Gentles’ allegations. Schwarzberg interviewed more than 30 witnesses and wrote in his report that “So many people categorically denied the accusations made against them and others so as to call to question whether there was any factual basis for the charges.” His conclusion was that there was no evidence to substantiate any of Gentles’ allegations.

The Miami Herald quoted Gentles as saying that Schwarzberg was “paid by the city, so he’s really not independent.”

Gentles has until January 1, 2013 to start his job as an investigator. The New Times reported that the Miami Beach City Attorney’s office issued a statement saying  “Mr. Gentles has agreed to a settlement with the city and he needs to abide by it.”

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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