In a legal battle that lasted more than a decade, Brookline Town voted Tuesday to award an $11 million settlement to a Black former firefighter who said he experienced racial discrimination at the fire department.
The Boston Globe reports that Gerald Alston accused his fire department of racial discrimination in 2015 after he received a voice message from his former supervisor, Lt. Paul Pender Jr., which included racist language. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court sided with Alston in April, stating that the town’s handling of Alston’s complaints was “woefully deficient and insensitive.”
“As I’ve noted, this 11-year saga has brought discredit to the Town of Brookline,” said Raul Fernandez, Brookline Select Board vice chair. “Win or lose, further litigating this matter will reinforce the narrative that Brookline is a racially-hostile community.”
The settlement sum was agreed to by the town and Alston’s legal team after negotiations in mid-September to compensate for his emotional distress. According to Boston 25 News, Pender was promoted while Alston was fired in alleged retaliation. The settlement included benefits and pay already owed to Alston and “would provide closure ending all litigation and all employment or retirement conversations, but not everyone agreed.”
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Town meeting members scrapped several proposed amendments, including three proposed by former Select Board member Gil Hoy, which offered to lower the settlement amount to $2.5 million, $4 million, or $6 million.
“Racism has no place in Brookline,” Hoy said. “But I don’t see how an $11 million settlement could be appropriate or fair in relation to the merits of the case that remains, and the town’s other important needs, or be particularly meaningful in fighting against racism.”
While Hoy and others said the settlement amount was too high, Select Board and advisory committee members said $11 million was the final amount Alston’s legal team was willing to negotiate.
“If the $6 million settlement passes, we have no settlement, we are going to trial,” said advisory committee member Chi Chi Wu. “The fact that the town allowed Alston to be ostracized, isolated, marginalized, because he complained about racism, is at the very heart of this case. If the incident itself had been properly dealt with, we would not have this stunningly awful case.”
Kimberley Richardson, Brookline Town meeting member said it’s time the town stops “hiding from the truth” of its questionable history.
“The truth is, the Town of Brookline is most definitely a racist town. I think this is difficult for you to hear, but it shouldn’t be,” Richardson said in the Boston Globe. “The town discriminated against Gerald Alston, the town retaliated against Gerald Alston, the town caused Gerald Alston emotional distress, and now the town needs to do the right thing.”