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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Firefighters May Not Get to Fight Racism as Class

WASHINGTON (CN) - A group of black firefighters suing the District of Columbia for employment discrimination cannot be certified as a class just yet, a federal judge ruled.

Since the firefighters have been vague as to whether their claims display the required commonality to file as a class, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ordered a 60-day discovery period for them to show otherwise.

The plaintiffs in the case are 44 former and current black firefighters and emergency medical technicians who claim that the city disciplined or denied them promotions because of their race. Their claims include hostile work environment, unfair discipline and unequal promotion.

One black lieutenant with the Fire Department contrasts the punishment he faced for "a single ill-considered remark" taken as sexual harassment against the punishment a white sergeant faced for texting a picture of his penis to a black female firefighter. While the black lieutenant was forced to resign, the white sergeant received a demotion coupled with "a beneficial transfer to a high-profile position," according to the court's Dec. 23 summary.

Despite the alarming allegations, the plaintiffs failed to prove commonality, Howell said. "The plaintiffs have alleged a series of instances in which African-American employees purportedly experienced a hostile work environment or received harsher punishments for disciplinary infractions than similarly situated white employees, but many of these allegations are either conclusory or rely on comparison of the punishments for infractions that appear distinguishable," he wrote.

A magistrate judge will handle the case during the 60-day period precertification discovery.

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