Baltimore City Lieutenant Files Race Discrimination Suit

A lieutenant with the Baltimore City Fire Department has filed a race discrimination suit claiming he was subjected to unfounded disciplinary investigations and retaliation. Mitchell Waters filed suit today in US District Court for the District of Maryland.

Lt. Waters claims that prior to April 11, 2021 he had a unblemished record.  That changed after he had a “verbal exchange” at an incident scene with a female Baltimore County paramedic who’s husband is a city fire officer. Lt. Waters claims he became the target of race-based “vengeful, false and frivolous” complaints.

Over the next two years Lt. Waters claims he was subjected to investigation after investigation, requiring him to seek therapy for anxiety and panic attacks. The hostility only increased after he complained about the mistreatment. Lt. Waters, who is identified in the complaint as African American and Black, attributes the hostility to his race and claims that white firefighters were not subjected to any of the indignities he had to endure.

The 39-page complaint lists numerous examples of what he contends are examples of disparate treatment at the hands of many officers and members.  Here are a sampling, quoted from the complaint:

  • In an act of retaliation, while on duty on October 19, 2021, Plaintiff was instructed to go to BCFD Headquarters to participate in an interview for a harassment complaint filed against him, the existence of which he had never even been notified by mail, email or certified mail as is required by Manual of Procedure 312-1. BCFD has not produced any paperwork to indicate that Plaintiff was previously notified of this complaint prior to this illegal hearing, in which due process was not followed.
  • On November 8, 2021, while working overtime, Plaintiff was suspended on the spot for insubordination. This was done without a special or complaint being filed against him, and with no obvious complainants. Rather, Plaintiff was suspended on the basis of a verbal complaint that claimed he had violated a direct order of Chief Taft from June 15, 2021 to cease talking to members of the Fire Department about an alleged petition and that he had circulating around the department
  • On May 5, 2022, Plaintiff received anonymous text messages from the number +12405818082. The messages included threats of violence, stalking, vandalism, derogatory, racist and disparaging remarks about Plaintiff. The messages were clearly from someone in the Department with significant knowledge of Plaintiff’s protected activity.
  • Deputy Chief Thomas Tosh attempted to place Plaintiff on lateness charges because he was “late” for work coming from work within Baltimore City Fire Department from Engine 27. No member can be placed on lateness charges when transferring shifts to work at another station; this is a situation that happens nearly daily.
  • On October 5, 2022, while working an overtime 10-hour day shift at Engine 51, Chief Jason Goodwin came to the station to talk to Plaintiff about possibly being placed on charges regarding the door at Engine 27 that needed to be repaired the night before on October 4, 2022 while Plaintiff was working his regular shift. Plaintiff reported that the door was inoperable to Battalion Chief Glenn Kokucka on October 4, 2022, and there was a door repairman who came in to attempt to fix the door but was unsuccessful. The repairman stated that he required more tools and that the door was experiencing normal wear and tear issues. On October 5, 2022 Chief Goodwin stated that there was an attempt to place Plaintiff on charges for “breaking into” the control box in an attempt to repair the door. Plaintiff explained to him that the control box was always open, and that the members of Engine 27 manually use that box when the door becomes inoperable. Plaintiff expressed to Chief Goodwin that this was a ridiculous attempt to place him on charges, and Chief Goodwin responded by saying, “Well, when you are at odds with the Department they tend to do stuff like this;” admitting that the Department was targeting and harassing Plaintiff in retaliation for his protected activity.
  • On January 6, 2023, while responding to 820 Argonne Drive, Apt. E, Incident Number 0002821-000, which was a fire box assignment, Plaintiff discovered that there was a nail intentionally placed in his turnout boot by someone in an attempt to injure him.
  • On March 3, 2023, BCFD Command staff harassed Plaintiff about being late to a school event at Sinclair Lane Elementary School, though he was late because a subordinate under his command… required medical attention and transport to the Public Safety Infirmary after reporting a medical condition that prevented him from continuing his work shift.
  • On April 2, 2023, Baltimore City Fire Department compelled Plaintiff to sign a notice of investigation for being late after working a 14-hour overtime night shift at Truck 26, which is located at 4315 Mannasota Ave, requiring Plaintiff to then drive 30 minutes across town to 3220 Frederick Ave to continue working overtime at Engine 30 for another 24 hours.

Here is a copy of the complaint.

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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