Alabama Firefighter Loses Second Discrimination Suit

An Alabama firefighter who claims he was the victim of race and age discrimination, has lost his second lawsuit against his fire department. Christopher Holden filed suit against the City of Madison, Fire Chief Ralph Cobb and Mayor Troy Trulock in US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in 2017 after having lost a similar race discrimination suit in the same court in 2015.

In both cases Holden, an African American, claims he was the victim of race-based discrimination throughout his career. In the second case Holden also claimed he was subjected to age discrimination.

US District Court Judge Abdul K. Kallon, who handled both suits, handed down his ruling in the second case last week. He concluded that most of Holden’s race discrimination claims were barred by the principle of res judicata. Under res judicata, since the court already considered Holden race discrimination claims in the 2015 suit, he was barred from relitigating any of the issues alleged in the first suit again in the second lawsuit. Holden lost the first case of procedural grounds. In explaining res judicata, Judge Kallon stated:

  • This doctrine “‘will bar a subsequent action if: (1) the prior decision was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3) the parties were identical in both suits; and (4) the prior and present causes of action are the same.'”
  • This bar pertains not only to the claims actually raised in the prior action, but also to claims that could have been raised in the prior action.
  • In determining whether the prior and present causes of action are the same, the court must decide whether the actions arise “out of the same nucleus of operative fact, or [are] based upon the same factual predicate.”

Judge Kallon noted while res judicata would bar other types of employment-related claims Holden brought or could have brought that arose out of the same acts of discrimination, it would not prevent him from raising additional acts of discrimination that occurred after the first case was filed.

Nonetheless, Judge Kallon ruled against Holden on those additional claims of race and age discrimination finding that he failed to file a timely notice of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the discrimination.

Here is a copy of the decision: Holden v. City of Madison_ 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66507

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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