African-American firefighter wins racial discrimination suit against the Cincinnati Fire Department

Posted at 5:13 PM, Sep 04, 2013

CINCINNATI -- An African-American lieutenant firefighter won a racial discrimination lawsuit Wednesday against the Cincinnati Fire Department.

A federal jury awarded Mark Broach $224,000 in wages and emotional distress damages, ending the years-long battle.

Broach, who has been with the Cincinnati Fire Department for more than 25 years, said he was discriminated against because of his race.

Broach accused two white captains in the department of discriminating against him and falsely accusing him of neglecting his duty on a fire. He claimed that’s because he had refused to help force another black firefighter out of the department.

An investigation by the fire department found that the neglect-of-duty allegation against Broach was unfounded.

Broach also accused the city of retaliating against him for helping the other black employee by supporting his discrimination complaint against the city and then filing his own complaint. Attorneys for the city said in opening statements last week that Broach has a long history of disciplinary problems and that the case was about an inability to recognize the responsibility of consequences of actions.

On Wednesday, Broach said he was satisfied with the verdict and thanked the jury for their “thorough deliberations,” which lasted four days.

“The city should get the message that it cannot retaliate when an employee complains about discrimination,” Broach’s attorney Al Gerhardstein said in a release. “We hope this verdict reminds the city to be fair to all workers.”

Broach filed the federal discrimination lawsuit against the city last August.

“This case is about keeping people in Cincinnati safe during fires and medical emergencies while keeping these first responders safe from discrimination and retaliation,” Gerhardstein told jurors in opening statements.

Broach’s troubles began in 2009, when he says he disagreed with the way supervisors were treating a firefighter named Ron Evans. He felt that Evans was being singled out because he was black.

A fire chief testified for the prosecution last Tuesday that he gave Evans a zero in a performance evaluation largely because of Evans’ frequent absences. But under cross-examination from Broach’s attorneys, the chief acknowledged that many of those absences came after Evans injured his back in a car accident.

Broach said he was told to participate in disciplining Evans and refused.

Evans filed a discrimination complaint against the city in February 2010. A week later, Broach says, he and Evans were falsely accused of neglect of duty at a fire for not responding quickly enough; Broach was relieved of his lieutenant duties during the investigation, which took four months before clearing Broach of all charges, according to court documents.

Just after being accused of neglecting his duty, Broach filed his own discrimination complaint against the city. Rather than the city addressing the complaints, Broach said, he was further “retaliated against” by being put on sick leave and told to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation. He said was fully reinstated in February 2012, three months after being declared fit.

Evans has a separate lawsuit against the city that hasn’t yet gone to trial.

The Associated Press contributed to this report