Mississippi Firefighter Sues Over Race Conscious Hiring

A white firefighter in Mississippi has filed suit against his home town claiming that he was passed over in the hiring process despite being the only applicant who was already certified as a firefighter, so that the city could hire black applicants even though they were not certified.

Dylan Shane Davis filed suit last week in US District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi against the City of West Point. He is accusing the city of race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as in violation of the Constitution.

The complaint alleges as follows:

  • Plaintiff’s life ambition is to be a firefighter, as was Plaintiff’s stepfather, in his hometown of West Point, Mississippi.
  • Plaintiff first applied for a firefighter’s position with the City of West Point, Mississippi, when he was eighteen (18) years old. Plaintiff was rejected as not being old enough.
  • Thereafter, Plaintiff, at his own expense, obtained certification as a firefighter, and was hired to work at the Grenada Fire Department.
  • Plaintiff remained, however, hopeful to be a firefighter in his hometown of West Point, Mississippi, and attempted to become employed in March 2018.
  • In the fall of 2018, the City Board of Selectmen instructed the city fire chief to submit the names of four (4) qualified applicants.
  • The fire chief submitted the names of Plaintiff, one other white applicant, and two (2) black applicants.
  • All of the applicants, except Plaintiff, were uncertified.
  • Plaintiff was not only a certified firefighter, but had also attended numerous specialized schools.
  • Hiring uncertified firefighters causes the City of West Point, Mississippi’s insurance rates to be more expensive, and endangers city residents since uncertified persons are not allowed to fight fires.
  • Additionally, the City must undergo substantial expense to obtain certification for its firefighters.
  • It was, therefore, obvious that Plaintiff should be one of the persons hired for the vacancy.
  • Plaintiff was informed by a battalion commander at the fire department that Plaintiff would certainly be hired because the fire chief strongly recommended Plaintiff as the only certified applicant.
  • During the application process, a member of the Board of Selectmen of the City of West Point made statements to the effect that the City needed to give African Americans access to “goodpaying jobs” and to help them “raise the quality of their lives.”
  • The statements reference the need for a “quota system,” in which the City attempted to hire more black applicants regardless of qualification, because the fire department has fewer black firefighters than white firefighters.
  • The City of West Point, through the rationale of the Selectman who made the statements concerning the need to give the black persons “good-paying jobs,” and hired the only two (2) black applicants who had been recommended by the chief, even though they were not certified, also hired a white, uncertified person.
  • The white person who was hired was a member of an extremely prominent and respected family. Plaintiff knows the white person who was hired personally, and agrees that he would probably be an excellent firefighter based upon his character.
  • Plaintiff, however, was eliminated from consideration, and two (2) black applicants were hired instead, even though they were not certified, because the City wanted to balance the number of black and white firefighters.
  • This constitutes discrimination based upon race, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, four of the five selectmen in West Point are black. Davis’ attorney Jim Waide was quoted as saying: “This case shows race discrimination hurts all of the citizens of the municipality, not just the discrimination victim. As a result of hiring uncertified firefighters, the city of West Point will incur unnecessary expense to provide the necessary training and will have a less qualified firefighter force, thus endangering citizen safety.”

The complaint seeks damages for loss of income, mental anxiety and attorney’s fees, as well as an order for the city to hire Davis. Here is a copy of the complaint: DAVIS v WEST POINT

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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