The career of a firefighter is mentally stressful and filled with physical danger. Firefighters are at greater risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and certain types of chronic respiratory disorders. Currently, being a firefighter is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States with high levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reported, and some Colorado firefighters were forced to deal with the additional stress of racial discrimination. The case and the resulting settlement have ignited additional conversations regarding the reality of discrimination in the workplace that even men and women risking their lives to save others often encounter.
Minority employees working at the Aurora Fire Department often began experiencing problems as soon as they were recruited. Tasks completed by experienced firefighters that were done seemingly according to the procedure were being criticized or deemed as completed unsuccessfully. Often little or no explanation was given regarding failed tasks, and a disproportionately large number of minority recruits were failing at the academy. Records indicated that three times as many minority firefighters as white firefighters failed, including those who were experienced.
The Complaint and Lawsuit
The civil rights complaint was initiated after a 51-year-old firefighter veteran, Calvin Brown, testified on behalf of a recruit who filed a complaint against a white supervisor for mistreatment. Brown claimed that following his testimony, he was the recipient of discriminatory treatment that was blatantly retaliatory. The treatment he and other minorities received was not overtly discriminatory, but usually subtler. Brown reported being on the receiving end of micro-aggressions such as being called the name of another black employee to whom he bore no resemblance. Eventually, the situation escalated to the point at which Brown was abruptly dismissed from his position, and he retained a civil rights attorney to initiate a lawsuit on his behalf.
The attorney representing Calvin Brown and other minority firefighters wrongfully terminated stated that Brown’s treatment was a direct result of Brown’s decision to testify that he witnessed a white supervisor threaten a black recruit. The lawsuit cited the unusually high number of black recruits dismissed from the academy and used the precedent established by a Chicago Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which established that racial harassment does not have to be explicit. The City of Aurora decided to pay $480,000 to settle the case with four minority firefighters. There settlement also includes additional discrimination and diversity training by the City of Aurora for its employees for the next five years.
Fighting Discrimination in the Workplace
Proving discrimination has occurred often seems impossible, leading to many victims not pursuing a case. In reality, with the assistance of a qualified discrimination attorney, you can fight back against workplace discrimination. If you or someone close to you has received retaliatory treatment after filing a discrimination complaint, is being harassed, or was wrongfully terminated, the team at HKM Employment Attorneys are ready to provide the legal representation you deserve. Contact our conveniently-located Denver, Colorado office today to schedule an initial consultation so that we can begin working on your case.