Alleging a decades-long system of discrimination surrounding the discipline and promotion of African- American firefighters and EMS workers, a group of current and former employees has taken their concerns public by filing a 31-page class action lawsuit against the city’s fire department.

The D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, which has become known as a breeding ground for racial tension, employs 2,200 workers. While some 50 to 60 workers are actively involved in the suit that was filed Oct. 15 in U. S. District Court, their attorney, Donna Rucker contends the total number could exceed 1,000.

“There appears to be disparity in treatment in terms of how the fire department deals with individuals,” Rucker said prior to the filing. “There seems to be a divided line. You can have one offense and have treatment for an African American handled one way, and treatment for someone who’s not African American handled another way.”

The lawsuit, which states that African Americans have routinely been denied promotions since October 2007, lists the city, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Fire Chief Dennis Rubin and two other White fire department supervisors as defendants, also contains the names several White firefighters – as well as a handful of their Black counterparts — that have either been accused of or proven to have practiced various forms of misconduct. In some instances, firefighters have been arrested for inappropriate behavior that included stalking, assault and possession of illegal firearms.

Rucker, a veteran discrimination attorney with the District-based firm of Gebhardt & Associates, said in a statement this past weekend that from time to time she’s witnessed disciplinary actions taken against African-American firefighters that were vastly different than those leveled at Whites for the same offenses.

The case comes on the heels of a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2009 in which two decorated Black fire investigators claimed discrimination and retaliatory tactics heaped on them after they revealed that a massive fire that gutted the historic Eastern Market three years ago had not been properly investigated by the department.

Also in 2007, the department was taken to task over a reverse discrimination matter that involved 23 White firefighters who claimed to have been denied promotions. About a month later, Mayor Fenty appointed Rubin, who is White, to head the department.

While the plaintiffs say they are not as interested in monetary compensation as in having their rights in the workplace recognized, their lawsuit states that they are seeking any and all relief available under U.S. code, “including but not limited to declaratory relief and injunction against further discrimination, clean records and reinstatement, as appropriate of back pay and benefits and reasonable attorneys fees” as well as reimbursement of legal expenses.

So far, fire officials have declined comment, noting that it is common procedure surrounding matters in litigation.

 

DorothyRowley

AFROStaffWriter