Kentucky Firefighter Sues Over Racist Facebook Posting

A Kentucky firefighter who complained about racially offensive Facebook postings has filed suit in state court claiming his chief and other fire department officials have created a hostile work environment by tolerating such statements.

Michael Williams, a firefighter with the North Oldham Fire Department, filed suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court claiming the department places black employees in danger “by their acquiescence to racial bias and bigotry, leaving [the officers who posted the racist statements] in charge of them in life-threatening situations.”

The problems began in May of 2013 when Williams complained about a post made by Major Charlie Hebel on Facebook that said “Poetic Justice. I didn’t think you could make a ni—– lips bigger.”

Williams’ complaint prompted Fire Chief David Stoltz to order Major Hebel to remove the post and place a letter in his personnel file. When a screenshot of the posting resurfaced in November, 2013 Williams complained to the North Oldham Board of Trustees.

Williams claims he was then reprimanded by a board member and his complaint was not investigated until the media picked up the story two days later. The suit alleges that “a phony investigation” was conducted resulting in no discipline.

Williams also alleges an open meetings violation occurred due to the way in which the fire department apprised the board of trustees about the progress of the second investigation.

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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