Massachusetts Firefighter Terminated Amidst Allegations of Discrimination

A Brookline firefighter who is suing the fire department for race discrimination has been terminated following a public hearing before the town’s Board of Selectmen.

Gerald Alston was fired at the hearing today. He had been out of work since May of 2012, and filed suit against the city last December claiming he was the victim of blatant race discrimination and retaliation.

According to, Alston told the Board of Selectmen that the allegations against him was “all garbage” and that “Never in your life will you understand what it’s like to be a black man out here.”

One of Alston’s supporters, Savyon Cohen, told the selectmen:

  • “We’re here to witness a moment in history where overt racism has been allowed to progress and the person who [stood up to it] is being punished over and over again.”
  • “Gerald’s story will never be forgotten. Now what black folks have known forever – now white people know too: This isn’t the place where black people are treated equitably.”

Alston’s lawsuit is full of similar allegations of racism, including the following:

  • [Alston is described in the complaint as a young man who attended] school in Natick, a predominantly white suburb, where he frequently had to address the ignorance of his white suburban classmates about Black people and about life in Boston.
  • Alston prided himself in his ability to handle racial ignorance and educate his white classmates about racism and prejudice.
  • The Town of Brookline requires Black and Hispanic people to be deferential, compliant, and obedient to white people, particularly on issues involving race and racism.
  • The Town of Brookline uses its diversity department as window dressing to maintain the sham of equal opportunity.
  • The Town of Brookline reserves its 25 department head positions for white people, with the exception of the diversity department, which is the only department in the history of Brookline ever to be led by a Black person.
  • The Town of Brookline defends white people against any challenge to the regime of racial subordination.
  • The Town of Brookline gives warnings to white people for traffic violations for which people of color receive fines.
  • The Town of Brookline releases white motorists for driving without a license violations that it arrests people of color for.
  • The Town of Brookline allows white people to avoid prosecution for criminal acts.

The town accused Alston exhibiting threatening behavior at work, using drugs, and failing to comply with the town’s efforts to evaluate his fitness to return to duty. In the end, the termination was based upon his inability to return to work.

According to a prepared statement, the Selectmen stated: “The Town now takes this necessary step after nearly three years of ongoing efforts to work with Mr. Alston and his attorney in a manner that satisfies the recommendations of two qualified evaluators. Mr. Alston’s and his attorney’s unwillingness to work with the Town has made it clear that at this juncture that there is nothing further the Town can do to facilitate Mr. Alston’s return to work as a firefighter.”

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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