Monday, April 19, 2010

Reverse Discrimination Lawsuits Bedevil Alabama Fire Department

An Alabama fire department that spent $300,000 to settle a reverse-discrimination lawsuit in 2004 is back in court today in a similar case.

William C. Hunter alleges that the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department discriminated against him based on race and age by promoting a less-qualified black officer in 2007 to be deputy chief. The case, which is scheduled to go to trial today in federal court, raises a number of issues we've covered here at Legal Schnauzer.

The black officer, Govan Mike Trenier, was at the heart of an earlier case filed by white fire captain Alan Silvester. A federal jury ruled in Silvester's favor in 2004, and the department appealed and wound up settling the case for $300,000.

In the latest lawsuit, Hunter states that he applied for one of three vacant deputy-chief positions and placed second among applicants on a job-related exam. Trenier, who ranked sixth, got one of the positions. Two white applicants, who ranked first and third respectively, got the other two spots. Both of the white applicants are younger than Hunter, who has 38 years of experience with the department and has been fire services district chief since 1995.

Mobile attorney Richard Fuquay has taken three similar cases to trial. "Every case is different, but it's the same type," Fuquay said.

The trial on Hunter's lawsuit is expected to last three days.

The Mobile case hits close to home for us. Race-based discrimination has not been a part of my experience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer. But age-based discrimination certainly has been.

My job situation started deteriorating not long after my former supervisor, Pam Powell, told me (and apparently everyone else in our department) that upon her retirement she intended to push for the promotion of Matt Windsor, a coworker with 20 years less experience than me. Not long after that, Powell initiated a harassment campaign against me that lasted about five months before I finally complained about age discrimination to her superior. I was fired roughly three weeks after making the complaint.

I've seen extensive evidence to indicate UAB has practiced gender discrimination in my case. My termination letter was vague, at best, but the main charge seems to be that I was using university computer equipment to write my blog, in violation of the university's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). It was revealed at my grievance hearing that UAB's own investigation showed I had not used my work computer to write the blog. In other words, I did not violate the AUP in any way, but UAB's administration upheld my termination anyway.

How are female employees treated when they clearly have violated the AUP? Well, we've already reported on two female UAB employees who used university equipment to send messages that were racist or homophobic--and they both, at last report, still work at the university.

Recently we learned of another curious case involving a female UAB employee.
She engaged in titillating behavior that violates the AUP in highly creative ways. But she still works at the university. Much more on that case coming up.

As for the Mobile fire-department cases, I feel for both sides. On one hand, the department reportedly has been making a serious effort to increase diversity in its ranks, an honorable goal. But it apparently has been trying to reach that goal by discriminating against white firefighters.

As a victim of discrimination myself, I know how painful that kind of experience can be.

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