Skip to comments.Fire Captain Wins Discrimination Case
Posted on 02/07/2004 11:02:02 AM PST by blam
Fire captain wins discrimination case
Jury orders city to pay Alan Silvester $250,000
By JOE DANBORN
Federal jurors on Friday ordered the city of Mobile to pay more than $250,000 to a white Fire-Rescue Department captain who was passed over for promotion in favor of a black colleague with considerably less seniority.
The eight-member jury -- which included one black -- concluded that department officials, particularly Chief Steve Dean, discriminated against Capt. Alan Silvester on the basis of race, then retaliated against him for suing over the matter.
Paul Carbo, a lawyer for the city, said he did not immediately know whether city officials would appeal the verdict.
"I think Chief Dean is professional enough to let the court decision stand, and let this be water under the bridge and a lesson learned to all of us," said the soft-spoken Silvester.
Dean -- who also is white and, like Silvester, a veteran of about 30 years -- declined to comment as he left the courtroom Friday afternoon.
Throughout his four-year tenure, the chief has made a public priority of achieving greater racial balance in the ranks, although the department has only modest gains to show for it. The agency was more than 90 percent white in the early 1990s and is about 80 percent white today.
Silvester's lawyers attempted to show that City Councilman Thomas Sullivan, the chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, pressured Dean to recruit and promote minorities. Sullivan, who is black, wrote the chief a letter in December 2002 encouraging him to consider promoting minorities to some of the department's 12 district chief positions.
In testimony on the first day of the trial, Sullivan acknowledged that the demographics of the police and fire departments are among his concerns, but he denied pressuring Dean. The chief testified that he felt no particular push from the councilman.
The central issue in Silvester's trial was Dean's decision to promote Mike Trenier, a fire truck driver, to fire administrator, a slot that Silvester had sought. The promotion made Trenier the department's highest-ranking minority in the modern era.
Dean gave Trenier the job on an interim basis and waited about a year to post the opening for the job, according to testimony. In that span, Trenier completed his bachelor's degree, a prerequisite for the fire administrator slot, Dean testified.
Also during that time, Dean unsuccessfully sought to have the minimum education requirements for fire marshal and several other positions lowered from a bachelor's degree to an associate's degree, according to Shannon Weekley, director of the Mobile County Personnel Board.
Trenier finished second to Silvester on the application test for the job. Dean and other witnesses testified, however, that department heads legally can choose any of the 10 finalists for a job opening, as determined by the Personnel Board. Dean said he selected Trenier primarily because of his high grade-point average and the fact that, while serving as interim fire administrator, he oversaw an important accreditation process for the department.
Silvester's lawyers, Richard Fuquay and Ed Smith, spent a good bit of the trial raising questions about Trenier's qualifications, but after the verdict, they said their intent was not to attack him personally.
"This case was never about hurting" Trenier, Smith said. "He's a good guy."
Said Silvester: "It wasn't his fault."
Silvester also had alleged that the department's brass punished him for filing a discrimination claim. Silvester was suspended for three shifts for filing a false report after a recruit was slightly injured in a firehouse prank, according to testimony. The recruit later admitted that he had lied on the report and asked Silvester to sign it, and the Personnel Board later tossed out the suspension.
The eight jurors heard two days of testimony in the Silvester case before listening to closing arguments Friday morning, then deliberated for about three hours. Juries in federal civil trials can range in size from six to 12 persons.
In addition to the award of $225,000 in damages and another $27,400 in back pay, Silvester sought a promotion to the department's lone fire ad ministrator post, now occupied by Trenier. Jurors were not asked to rule on that matter, however, leaving it instead for Chief U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade to resolve.
Granade gave the lawyers until March 5 to file additional motions on that aspect of the case. It is unclear what would happen to Trenier if the judge orders the city to give his post to Silvester.
-- Dr. Martin Luther King
In the long run, the taxpayer wins.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.