Jacksonville Fire Answers Race Discrimination Suit by Fire Inspector

The City of Jacksonville, Florida has responded to a rather unusual race discrimination suit in the fire department with a rather unusual answer containing 17 affirmative defenses.

Fire Inspector Marcel White filed suit against the Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Department last May alleging race discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment. White, who is African American, claims the discrimination was perpetrated in large measure by his supervisor, Kevin Jones. The unusual part of the suit: Jones is African American as well. Another wrinkle is that both men were vying for the fire marshal’s position, a promotion that Jones ended up being awarded.

White alleges that:

  • [he] served as a Fire Inspector without incident or discipline from 2002 through mid-2011; in 2011, however, he became singled out for disciplinary write-ups for conduct that was the normal practice of FPB.
  • The disciplinary write-ups continued into 2012, and were lodged by his supervisor, Kevin Jones (“Jones”), who was a Captain at FPB and the Officer in Charge.
  • On April 10, 2012, JRFD removed him from his position as Fire Inspector due to the improper and baseless allegations of misconduct made by Jones, including alleged “falsification of documents,” “conduct unbecoming of a public employee,” and “gross negligence,” which related to fire extinguisher inspections in Plaintiffs’ district.

The disciplinary write-ups that White claims were “the normal practice of FPB” involved not citing businesses with minor code violations such as outdated fire extinguishers and other equipment issues. White alleges the practice he followed was to verbally inform the business owner of the need to address the deficiencies but not cite the building owner nor indicate the deficiencies on the inspection form.

White claims the meritless disciplinary write-ups and allegations brought by Jones impaired his promotional chances. The complaint states that White “was more qualified for the [Fire Marshal’s] position than Jones due to his tenure and experience.”

The city responded to the complaint last week with an answer that included seventeen affirmative defenses ranging from the venerable “12(b) (6)” failure to state a claim and statute of limitations to sovereign immunity and failure to mitigate damages.

Here is a copy of White’s complaint:  White v Jacksonville

Here is the city’s answer.  Citys Answer

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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