Oakland Firefighter’s Race Discrimination Claims Rejected by Jury

A federal court jury has ruled against an African American firefighter who had claimed to have been the victim of race discrimination.

Ronald El-Malik Curtis claims that his firefighter co-workers harassed him because of his race. According to court decisions, El-Malik Curtis alleged “he was subjected to a hostile work environment based on his race; that he experienced retaliation because he reported the racial discrimination; and that the City failed to prevent the discrimination.” He claims the harassment began when he tried to recruit other African American firefighters to work at Station 1 with him.

Among the specific acts of discrimination:

  • his car was vandalized while parked at the station
  • a dead bird was found under the bed he occupies
  • honey was smeared on the floor of the bedroom he uses
  • tampering with food left for his shift
  • placing a clown picture over a picture of a prominent African-American

The suit was originally filed in 2010. The district court granted the city summary judgment in 2012 finding insufficient evidence that any of the behavior was attributable to El-Malik Curtis’s race. Last year the 9th Circuit reversed, concluding that El-Malik Curtis had presented allegations factual sufficient for a jury to consider. According to the 9th Circuit:

“As the district court recognized, much of the abusive conduct was facially neutral, there was no known perpetrator for some of the incidents, and much of the conduct was directed at the Curtis’s shift, generally. Nonetheless, there was evidence in the record from which a reasonable jury could infer that the responsible parties were firefighters of other races and that they were targeting Curtis’s shift because it was predominantly African-American.”

Here is the 9th Circuit’s decision: El-Malik Curtis v Oakland

More on the jury verdict.

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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