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Brookline firefighter sues town over alleged racial slur

Posted by Tom Coakley  August 30, 2013 12:27 PM

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A Brookline firefighter is suing the town for what he claims was a racial slur left on his voicemail by a superior officer who months later was honored at the White House for valor.

In a lawsuit filed in Norfolk Superior Court in June, Brookline Firefighter Gerald Alston claims that in late May 2010 then Lt. Paul R. Pender left him a voicemail with the slur and an expletive on it.

Alston, who is African American, complained to his superior officers and human resources in June 2010, and the town’s investigation found that Pender was not directing his comments towards Alston but towards a driver on the road at the time Pender was leaving the voice message, according to the suit.

Pender was suspended without pay for a few days for violating the code of conduct, according to the suit. But Alston claims that after he complained to the town he has been ostracized by Pender and other firefighters in the department, according to the suit.

Pender, who has since been promoted to captain, told the Globe Friday that the issue was resolved a while back and he did not know why it was coming back up. He declined to comment further. Patricia Correa, an attorney for the town, said she would not comment on the case because it is ongoing litigation.

The alleged incident occurred just months before Pender and two other Brookline firefighters received the nation’s highest award for public service, the Medal of Valor, in a September 2010 ceremony at the White House led by Vice President Joseph Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Pender was honored for rushing into a burning and partially collapsed building in Brookline in 2008 to help rescue a fellow firefighter. Pender and three other firefighters were treated for second-degree burns from the fire.

Alston filed the lawsuit against the town of Brookline in June about a month after Pender was promoted to the rank of captain.

Alston claims in his lawsuit that after he reported the racial slur to the town, Pender and other firefighters refused to talk to him, and firefighters would leave the room when he entered. The suit claims that various chiefs in the department instructed other firefighters to stay away from Alston otherwise they could be sued or fired.

According to the suit, Alston felt ostracized and humiliated and feared that he couldn’t count on the other firefighters if he found himself in a life threatening situation on the job, according to the suit. He repeatedly complained to his chiefs and to human resources, according to the suit, and then filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in May of 2012.

In the complaint filed with the state last year, Alston stated that he had met with Brookline Fire Chief Paul Ford, who asked if he was still going to have a problem with Pender if they were assigned to work together. Alston said he felt as though the town was treating him as if he was the culprit of the negative activity, according to the complaint.

“As a result of my race, the Town of Brookline has not handled the situation in the way they would have had it been an employee of a different race,” Alston wrote in the complaint.

Alston and his attorney then requested, and were granted a dismissal of the complaint filed with the commission so they could pursue the civil action against the town in Norfolk Superior Court.

In his suit, Alston is seeking damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, restitution for benefits he was unlawfully deprived, an injunction prohibiting further discrimination and attorney costs.

--brock.globe@gmail.com

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