Michigan Fire Department Seeks Sanctions in Discrimination Suit

A discrimination suit by a Cuban American firefighter in Warren, Michigan has taken an unexpected turn as attorneys for the city have asked a federal judge to dismiss the suit or sanction the plaintiff-firefighter on the eve of trial. Jose Suarez filed suit last year claiming he was subjected to a racially hostile work environment during his employment with the Warren Fire Department.

Suarez resigned on July 5, 2017 citing the hostile work conditions he was subjected to after he complained about discrimination. His suit was moving toward trial when he and his attorney gave an interview to TV station WXYZ during which he detailed allegations that were previously undisclosed. In particular, Suarez now claims that city employees referred to a certain station in the Warren Fire Department as a “chimp cage.”

According to the city’s Emergency Motion to Dismiss or Sanction, Suarez never disclosed this allegation either when he was interviewed as part of the city’s original investigation into his claims, nor when he was disposed as part of the law suit. The city argues that Suarez purposefully withheld the allegation in an effort to surprise the defense at trial at a point in time when it would not have time to refute it.

WXYZ quotes a number of city officials who call Suarez’s allegations of race discrimination ridiculous.  Mayor Jim Fouts noted that Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams is African American, and that City Attorney Ethan Vinson, also African American, referred to the suit as “garbage and hogwash.”

Here is a copy of the original complaint: SUAREZ v WARREN Complaint

Here is the city’s Emergency Motion: SUAREZ v WARREN SANCTIONS

 

UPDATE: December 8, 2018 – According to Macomb Daily, the parties have agreed to settle the case. The terms of the settlement have not been made public. 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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