Hartford Prevails in Race Discrimination Suit

A lawsuit filed by a Hartford firefighter who claims he was discriminated against on account of his race and age, has been dismissed by the US District Court for the District of Connecticut. Tony Milledge filed suit alleging he had been subjected to a hostile work environment by colleagues and supervisors for years.

Milledge contended that supervisors yelled at him, denied him promotions, and denied the use of FMLA leave because he is African American and/or his age. In 2020, the district court dismissed several of Milledge’s claims, but allowed him the opportunity to amend his compliant. Milledge took advantage of the opportunity and amended his complaint. The city then renewed its motion to dismiss claiming that Milledge still was unable to establish that the various disagreements and altercations he had were due to is race or age.

Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer agreed with the city, concluding:

  • To prevail on a hostile-work-environment claim under Title VII, a plaintiff first must show that “the hostile conduct occurred because of a protected characteristic.”
  • The problem for Milledge is that the only evidence of racial animus he has offered is the string of racist anonymous calls he received. But Milledge has not shown that “a specific basis exists for imputing the conduct that created the hostile environment to the employer.”
  • Because Milledge has not offered any evidence to show that these anonymous calls were made by or at the behest of his fellow firefighters, there is simply “no evidence that [Hartford] had any control over or permitted the anonymous caller[s] to make such calls.”
  • The remaining incidents related to various coworkers and supervisors over the course of Milledge’s employment lack any discernable connection to his race.
  • Although Milledge attempts to raise an inference of discrimination by showing that the City treated him differently than similarly situated white firefighters, he has not shown a genuine fact issue that he was “similarly situated in all material respects” to these comparators.
  • Rather, as detailed below, Milledge fails to adduce evidence that he was treated differently than others who were similarly situated to him during each interaction:
    • Milledge was denied promotions in 2006, 2009, and 2014, while lesser-qualified white firefighters were promoted. But Milledge has not offered any evidence as to who made these employment decisions and on what basis, nor has he shown that he was more qualified than the white firefighters who were promoted.
    • When Milledge’s mother died in 2008, the Human Resources director denied his request for FMLA leave. Although Milledge is unaware of white firefighters being denied leave under similar circumstances, he has not offered any evidence that a similarly situated white firefighter was in fact granted FMLA leave following the death of a parent.
    • In 2012 or 2013, Milledge was forbidden from leaving the fire station to get food, while white firefighters were allowed to do so. But Milledge had been previously suspended after testing positive for drug use, and he has not offered any evidence that white firefighters who had previously tested positive for drugs at work were not subject to the same restrictions.
    • In 2015, Chief Brady required Milledge to complete random drug-testing, but only after Milledge left the firehouse for an extended period of time in violation of his direct supervisor’s order. Milledge does not know what drug testing was required of other firefighters and has not offered any evidence that white firefighters who disobeyed orders and left during work hours after previously testing positive for drugs were not subject to similar testing requirements.
    • Chief Kerr made Milledge do ladder training in August 2017 that was especially difficult for him because of his previous injuries. But Milledge has not contested the City’s evidence that such training was required of all firefighters, and consequently he has not shown that racial animus motivated Chief Kerr’s decision to require him to complete such training.53Link to the text of the note
    • In September 2017, Chief Kerr reprimanded Milledge for using the handicapped bathroom when he was not handicapped, and Chief Costello told Milledge he would be fired if he did not get off the phone at work. In neither case does Milledge offer evidence of similarly situated comparators facing more preferential treatment or any other grounds to conclude that his supervisors chastised him due to his race rather than his misbehavior at work.
    • In March 2018, Milledge had abrasive encounters with Chief Tenney and Chief Errickson. But by Milledge’s own account, these altercations stemmed not from racial animus but rather from his EEOC complaint against Chief Brady. Milledge did not bring a retaliation claim against the City for the acts of these supervisors purportedly in response to his report against Brady in 2015.
    • Even had Milledge shown evidence of racial animus on the part of these supervisors and coworkers, none of their conduct rises to the level of objectively severe and pervasive harassment as required to substantiate a hostile workplace environment claim. “Isolated incidents generally will not suffice to establish a hostile work environment unless they are extraordinarily severe.”
  • Accordingly, I will grant summary judgment for the City as to Milledge’s claim of a racial hostile working environment.

Here is a copy of the decision.

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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