Indiana Captain Sues Over Race Discrimination

A Fort Wayne captain who requested a demotion last January and resigned in October is suing the city claiming a racially hostile work environment forced him to do both. Elbert Starks claims that starting in 2017 he was subjected to racially hostile comments from co-workers.

Starks, who identifies himself in the complaint as a black male, claims he reported the hostility to the fire chief and the union, to no avail. According to the complaint:

  • “[T]he alleged efforts on the part of the Department were calculated to make Starks at fault for the fact pattern.”
  • “[T]he Chief’s immediate remedy was to transfer Starks (the only black) from the Fire Station where the incidents occurred, rather than discipline white co-workers who created the racially hostile environment”
  • “Starks felt his best option to survive what he considered the collective racial animus of Fire Department management was to resign as Captain and become a Private/Firefighter and member of the rank and file on January 31, 2018.”

Starks sought to rescind his demotion request with 24 hours of it being made, but that request was denied. He filed a race discrimination complaint with the EEOC in March, and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with an unidentified disability. He filed a second complaint with the EEOC in April alleging race discrimination and retaliation, and a third complaint with the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission in November alleging disability discrimination.

Starks, who was an assistant chief from May 2014 to April 2015, also filed a request with the Merit System seeking to rescind his rank resignation, but that request was denied.

The suit was filed in Allen County Superior Court earlier this month. Starks is seeking “back pay, front pay, compensatory damages including a longevity bonus, an educational bonus, retirement monies, medical costs, emotional distress, fees, costs, reasonable attorney’s fees and all other relief the Court deems just and proper.”

Here is a copy of the complaint: Starks v Fort Wayne COMPLAINT

More on the story.

Here is a video of his hearing before the Merit Commission:

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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