Firefighter Disputes Firing for Giving Black Co-Workers Watermelon

DETROIT (CN) – A probationary fireman who lost his job last year after bringing a watermelon as a gift to his new black co-workers has sued the city of Detroit, claiming he was singled out for punishment because he is white.

Former Detroit firefighter Robert Pattison made headlines when the fire department discharged him last October for offensive and discriminatory conduct for bringing a watermelon wrapped in a bow to his station in the Warrendale neighborhood in western Detroit.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Wayne County Circuit Court, Pattison claims that he decided to forego the customary gift of doughnuts that firefighters typically bring to a new assignment, and instead arrived with the “healthy and economical” alternative of a watermelon. He says he did not intend to offend or humiliate his co-workers, 90 percent of whom were black.

“Plaintiff harbored no racial animus, purpose, or any other negative intention in giving the watermelon as a gift,” the eight-page court filing states.

Filed by attorney David Ravid, the complaint alleges employment discrimination, race-based discrimination, retaliation, defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of Pattison’s equal protection rights.

Pattison claims the fire department “would never have discharged a black employee for gifting a watermelon.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Detroit Fire Department sees things differently. On Oct. 6, 2017, Detroit Fire Department Chief Eric Jones issued a press release stating that the department had decided to fire Pattison after an investigation.

“There is zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior inside the Detroit Fire Department. On Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at Engine 55, a trial (probationary employee) engaged in unsatisfactory work behavior which was deemed offensive and racially insensitive to members of the Detroit Fire Department,” Jones said in the statement. (Parentheses in original.)

Pattison seeks damages and wants a judge to order the fire department to reinstate him.

The city and fire department did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

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