The city of Cincinnati created a hostile work environment and retaliated against a longtime firefighter, but he wasn’t targeted for his race, a jury concluded on Sept. 4.
The verdict came after four days of deliberations and a weeklong trial in Cincinnati fire Lt. Mark Broach’s discrimination lawsuit against the city.
The jury awarded Broach $224,000 in back pay for time that he was off during his troubles with the department and other damages.
“This is a real wake-up call to the city,” Broach’s attorney, Al Gerhardstein, told The Associated Press shortly after the verdict. “When an employee comes to you and says, `I believe there’s discrimination,’ you need to check it out. You don’t need to retaliate against him. I hope they never do it again.”
Aaron Herzig, deputy city solicitor, said the city is evaluating whether it will appeal the verdict to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the jury’s finding of liability on three of the claims but it is important to note that they found for the city on the race discrimination,” he said. “There was not discrimination here based on race, and that’s important for the city.”
Broach, who is black, said that two white fire captains falsely accused him of neglect-of-duty while at a fire and that he was stripped of his lieutenant responsibilities during a four-month investigation that concluded the allegations were unfounded.
He said he was targeted for defending a fellow black firefighter who was being discriminated against and for filing a discrimination complaint with the city. The other firefighter, Ron Evans, has filed his own lawsuit against the city; it has not yet gone to trial.
The city denied all the allegations and said that any actions taken against Broach and Evans were because of legitimate concerns, not his race.
In their closing arguments to jurors last week, attorneys on both sides cited last week’s 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I am really sorry, after all these years, that we have to do a case like this in Cincinnati,” Gerhardstein said, calling on jurors to return a verdict “that will sing to all of Cincinnati that they better wake up and stop discrimination and stop retaliation.”
He cited city statistics that showed in 2011 that about a quarter of Cincinnati’s police and fire personnel were black but half of all disciplinary actions in the fire department were against black workers.
“How hard does a man have to fight to be treated fairly by the city of Cincinnati?” Gerhardstein said.
City attorney Augustine Giglio told jurors that Broach had failed to accept responsibility for his own actions.
“We can expound and preach about race discrimination, but you have to have facts to back it up,” Giglio said.
He said a neglect-of-duty allegation against Broach was initiated not in retaliation but because a fire captain believed Broach didn’t respond to a fire fast enough and allowed a firefighter to go into the blaze alone. A department investigation later concluded those claims were unfounded