California Firefighter Files Race Discrimination Suit

A veteran California firefighter who played in NFL has filed suit alleging race discrimination and retaliation. Joseph Echema, a ten-year veteran of the Redwood City Fire Department and a Nigerian immigrant, filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court.

Echema played football for the University of California, Berkeley and went on to a four-year NFL career under the name of Adimchinobe Echemandu. He played for the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and the Houston Texans. Echema then joined the Redwood City Fire Department.

According to The Daily Journal, Echema filed ten complaints over the hostile work environment in 2018 and 2019. He was placed on paid leave from May 17, 2019 until January 8, 2020, while city investigated. Echema alleged he suffered depression and anxiety necessitating the assistance of mental health professionals.

Among the allegations Echema made:

  • derogatory, crude or offensive statements, jokes or images related to race
  • being demoted over a minor mistake during training
  • racially derogatory comments about his genitalia
  • a suggestion by a superior that he get gold teeth to match his gold badge
  • a superior asked he could not greet him or any Black person by calling them the n— word
  • retaliation after he filed his first complaint, including being ostracized.

The suit also alleges the city violated the California Firefighter Proce4dural Bill of Rights when it demoted Echema. A copy of the complaint was not available on the Alameda County Superior Court portal. More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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