Kansas

KCK firefighter accuses unified government of racial discrimination, retaliation: lawsuit

 

A Kansas City, Kansas firefighter is suing the Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas unified government, saying he was chastised by his superiors and eventually suspended for speaking out about racism in firefighters.

Leejamahl A. Washington, a 20-year veteran of the KCKFD, filed a civil lawsuit on Monday in the Kansas City, Kansas City, U.S. District of Kansas office, seeking damages for disparate treatment based on his race, racially motivated work environment hostile and workplace retaliation.

In the lawsuit, Washington, who is black, says he has been threatened “repeatedly” over the years for behavior white employees do without reproach and has overheard coworkers making racist statements. Toward the start of his term, Washington says he once saw colleagues wearing “Nazi memorabilia” in a break room and found a noose hanging in front of his locker.

Over the past two years, the lawsuit says he has begun to see “increasingly worse” treatment at work since testifying in court 21 months ago during a civil trial for Jyan Harris, another black firefighter who is suing the local government for discrimination and retaliation.

For example, the lawsuit alleges that Washington was forced to float between city fire stations, despite his seniority and in violation of official policy, for his 24-hour shifts in a way that white employees are not. .

He also says he was suspended without pay in November 2021 for turning off a light switch inside a fire station after a superior ordered him not to, an event described as a misdemeanor for which no firefighter white would be formally punished.

The lawsuit alleges that senior members of the firehouse tried to punish him by embellishing the details of his actions “even though they weren’t truthful” because of his previous complaints about discrimination. Washington says its complaints to human resources, meanwhile, have gone unanswered, according to the lawsuit.

The UG, which oversees the Kansas City, Kansas fire department and is the only defendant named in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to The Star’s request for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

According to the civil complaint, Washington began working for KCKFD around 2001. Throughout his career, the lawsuit alleges Washington witnessed “a pattern and practice” of discrimination and retaliation against black employees.

The allegations outlined in the lawsuit come as UG officials acknowledged previous problems within the firefighter culture.

In April 2021, a federal jury found that the UG discriminated against Harris, Washington’s former colleague, and retaliated against him for filing complaints. He was awarded $2.4 million in back pay, future payments and compensatory damages.

At the time, witnesses testified and the evidence appeared to support that black firefighters were frequently transferred to a fire station, were often passed over for promotions, and were not actively recruited to work for a predominantly black fire department. white in service of a racially diverse city.

In February 2022, Washington filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, the federal agency responsible for investigating racial discrimination in the workplace. Last month, the agency issued a letter of entitlement to sue Harris after it opened a file in its Kansas City, Kansas office, but the agency apparently took no further action.

Reachable by phone Tuesday evening, Sarah Liesen, of the Kansas City law firm Edelman, Liesen & Myers, LLP, who also represented Harris during the previous lawsuit against UG, said her firm “will fight for justice” for Washington in the latest civil case.

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