KCK Firefighter Awarded $2.4 Million For Race Discrimination

A Kansas City, Kansas firefighter who was suspended without pay in 2016 for working a second job while on sick leave, has been awarded $2.4 million in damages for race discrimination.  Jyan Harris claims the department discriminated against him because he is African American. Here is our earlier coverage, including a copy of the complaint.

At the center of Harris’ claims are the record-keeping practices of the department relative to shift-swaps/substitutions. Bill Maccarone covered that aspect last week in his blog. It is a rather unusual twist on the importance of good FLSA recordkeeping for non-FLSA reasons. Essentially, the city could not establish that Harris had in fact “double-dipped” (ie that he had been paid by the fire department and by another city agency for the same hours) due to a lack of record keeping… particularly records related to shift-trades.

The federal court ruled in Harris’ favor, 10-0, awarding him $2.1 million in lost wages and retirement benefits and $300,000  for emotional distress.

KSHB Channel 41 quoted Wyandotte County Administrator Doug Bach as saying:

  • While we support an inclusive fire department, this case has highlighted concerns among some of our personnel that we have more work to do.
  • Our firefighters are on the front lines of our public safety and, in 2021, no one should feel unwelcome or wronged while on the job.
  • Consequently, we are taking swift and decisive action to ensure that no one, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion, feels mistreated or disadvantaged within our workplace.
  • We are very concerned about the issues of bias and mistreatment our black firefighters raised in testimony.
  • We have zero tolerance for this alleged behavior and will be working to address it immediately.

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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