NJ City Settles Fire Chief’s Race Discrimination Suit for $325K

The settlement of race discrimination lawsuit brought by the former fire chief in Plainfield, New Jersey brings to a close a tumultuous few years for the city and its fire department. Fire Chief Frank Tidwell was suing the city and several local officials accusing them of a conspiracy to replace him with a white deputy chief.

That deputy chief, Jeffrey Courtney, filed suit alleging that Chief Tidwell discriminated against him on account of his race. Chief Courtney is white. Chief Tidwell is black. In that suit, Chief Courtney alleged that “Tidwell has made it clear that he does not want a white person to take the position of chief upon his retirement and has continually blocked” Chief Courtney’s promotion to chief after Chief Tidwell retires. More on that suit.

Chief Courtney’s suit was settled in 2018 for $450,000 and included a provision for his retirement on August 31, 2018. Here is more on that settlement. Chief Tidwell filed two suits (as best I can tell), one alleging a violation of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, and the second, alleging conspiracy, race discrimination, and hostile work environment to force him to retire.  He claimed to have had recordings of conversations of city officials plotting to have him removed.

While those suits were pending, Chief Tidwell was demoted and removed as fire chief. The settlement provides Chief Tidwell with $325,000, with neither side admitting to any wrongdoing. Here is more on the story of the settlement.

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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