NJ and Indiana Fire Departments Settle Discrimination Suits

Two settlements are in the fire law news today. In New Jersey, the Neptune Township Fire District No. 1 settled a race discrimination case filed by an African American firefighter who claims he was wrongfully denied additional compensation for extra duties and retaliated against when he complained.

Dwayne Breeden, a firefighter and fire inspector, claims he was tasked with serving as the district’s “fire official” [fire chief] temporarily after the previous fire official retired. Breeden claims his salary was never increased to compensate him for the increased duties, and that he was treated differently than his predecessor on account of him race.

Breeden claims he filed a public records request for information on the fire official’s position, which led the township board of fire commissioners to begin retaliating against him. He then filed two complaints with the NJ Division of Civil Rights, which prompted additional retaliatory conduct that included a reduction in hours.

The Township agreed to pay Breeden $150,000 to settle his claims with neither side admitting to any wrongdoing. Here is more on the story.

In Indiana, the Wayne Township Fire Department has settled the diabetic medic case. Kristine Rednour was terminated by the department after repeated episodes of fainting and hypoglycemia while at work. Rednour filed suit alleging disability discrimination and last July a federal court jury awarded her $223,500.

Left open following the verdict were several issues, including whether Rednour would be permitted to return to duty or whether he department would be liable for future lost wages, as well as a determination as to an award of attorneys fees and costs. The parties agreed to settle the case for $725,000.

The IndyStar quoted a Wayne Township Fire Department press release as saying that the department “understands the jury has spoken, however, staff and administration of Wayne Township Fire Department make hiring and separation decisions based on the safety of our citizens.” More on the settlement.

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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