Illinois Fire Inspector Alleges Race Discrimination and Retaliation

An Illinois fire inspector who claims he was repeatedly denied educational and promotional opportunities on account of his race filed suit yesterday in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Reuben Barrett claims the Village of Sauk Village [no typo] and its fire department failed to inform him of training programs and promoted less qualified white candidates because he is black. Barrett was hired as a firefighter in 2003 and assigned as an investigator in 2008, serving in both positions as a paid-on-call employee.

According to the complaint, Barrett has extensive fire service training including firefighter 2 & 3; fire officer 1 & 2; fire instructor 1 & 2; incident safety officer; fire inspector and fire investigator credentials to name a few. In addition:

  • Plaintiff also possesses the following degrees: Southern Illinois University: Bachelors of Science, Fire Service Management 2009; Webster University: Bachelors of Arts, Biology, 1983; Logan College of Chiropractic: Doctor of Chiropractic, 1990 National Board Certified and MI State Licensed Chiropractic Physician; William Howard Taft University: Juris Doctor, 2004.
  • Despite Plaintiffs qualifications and experience, the Village and the Fire Department, among other discriminatory conduct, denied Plaintiff the right and opportunity to be promoted in favor of white or Caucasian colleagues, members of a non-protected class.
  • Such members of the non-protected class were less qualified than Plaintiff.
  • Despite Plaintiffs qualifications, willingness, and availability, the Village and the Department regularly denied Plaintiff notice of training essential to maintaining existing certification or receiving additional certifications necessary for advancement, at the same time it provided such notice to Plaintiffs white counterparts.
  • Despite Plaintiffs qualifications, willingness, and availability, the Village and the Department regularly denied Plaintiff the tools and equipment necessary for his job to allow participation in active fire calls and investigations in the community, including required PPE equipment, which they provided to Plaintiffs white counterparts.
  • Despite Plaintiffs qualifications, willingness, and availability, the Village and the Fire Department regularly denied Plaintiff legitimate reimbursement for training programs which they reimbursed to white employees.
  • [Fire Chief Al] Stoffregen, despite knowledge of the lesser qualifications of white employees of the Fire Department, exercised his authority to promote those white employees who were not qualified or less qualified than Plaintiff.
  • On numerous occasions, Plaintiff complained to his superiors, including Stoffregen and Atwood about these past and continuing violations, to no avail.
  • In July 2013, Plaintiff provided additional written notice of his complaints and sought direction and instruction on the status of his employment due to the continued failure of the Village and the Fire Department, to provide him with equipment, gear, training, and a response to his complaints of discriminatory conduct.
  • In response, the Village and the Fire Department intentionally disregarded his repeated inquiries, and effectively discharged Plaintiff from his employment.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Barrett v Village of Sauk Village

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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