Phila. fire department lieutenant files discrimination claim against firefighters' union

Jon Campisi Nov. 11, 2011, 10:05am

A black lieutenant with the Philadelphia Fire Department who alleges he was once cursed at by a drunken cadre of white fellow firefighters during a union gathering, has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the union representing city firefighters.

Attorney Brian R. Mildenberg, of the Philadelphia firm Mildenberg and Stalbaum, P.C., filed the civil complaint Nov. 9 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Kenneth Greene.

The plaintiff, who was previously involved in separate litigation against the City of Philadelphia over the now-defunct website Domelights, on which racially insensitive material was purportedly posted by white public servants, alleges in his complaint that members and leaders of Local 22 of the International Association of Firefighters have treated himself and other black firefighters in racially discriminatory ways.

Greene was the president of Club Valiants, the city’s chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, for a two-year period from 2008 to 2010, although he was involved with the group for about a decade.

It was during his time with Club Valiants that he became involved in protected civil rights activity, such as the participation in various lawsuits and the granting of interviews to local media outlets, the lawsuit states.

Greene also became involved in the union’s negotiations with the city over the fire department’s collective bargaining agreement, the suit states. At the time, Greene expressed criticisms with Local 22, claiming that the union was negotiating “in derogation of the rights of African American Fire Fighters.”

In his lawsuit, Greene contends that he was retaliated against for espousing his views at various times throughout his career.

For one thing, he alleges that the Local 22 union hall offers a “racially hostile and offensive environment.”

The union also operated a website that was insulting to black firefighters, the lawsuit claims. White union members often took part in and encouraged “racially hostile conduct” on the Internet site, the suit states.

“The intended result of this hostile conduct was to insult, deter and alienate African American Firefighters from the Union,” the lawsuit states.

The suit states that Greene was also subjected to racially hostile behavior while at the union hall. On one occasion, a current white department chief, who was then a department captain, “verbally accosted Plaintiff in a racially derogatory manner, while drunk and while the majority of the attendees, most if not all of whom were white, were drunk,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also claims that the union’s process of allowing retired members to vote in current union elections has created a racially divisive situation, since the department historically had less African American representation than white members.

“Upon information and belief, the practice of allowing the retired members to vote perpetuates the past historical discrimination, makes it difficult if not impossible for an African American to win a leadership position in the union, and dilutes African American votes, intentionally creating a disproportionate impact that should and must be ended,” the lawsuit states.

Through his complaint, Greene seeks declaratory judgment ordering the union to cease its discriminatory ways, injunctive relief and other remedial actions.

Greene also seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as other court relief.

A jury trial is being sought.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-07014-CMR.

More News