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An African-American firefighter in Colorado, who was terminated from the Aurora Fire Department, won a settlement from the city on Tuesday over subtle racism, which is often hard to prove.

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Racism in the Aurora Fire Department was not blatant, Calvin Brown, the 51-year-old veteran firefighter, told KDVR-TV. “I would be in one room and they would call me by another recruit’s name, it was another Black firefighter, but we look nothing alike,” Brown offered as just one example.

There were no allegations of a White co-worker hurling the N-word or a racially bias policy. Yet Brown and three other firefighters in the department—three Black and one Hispanic—won a $480,000 settlement.

For Brown, the department crossed a line when his bosses retaliated against him, in not so obvious ways, for testifying on behalf of another Black recruit who complained about mistreatment from a White supervisor. Ultimately, the department dismissed Brown.

David Lane, the civil rights lawyer who represented Brown and the other men, relied on data to prove that the department discriminates against people of color.

“Statistically, minority group firefighters were washing out of the academy at three times the rate of White firefighters,” Lane argued. He underscored that Brown, and the others, were experienced firefighters who should have sailed through training.

Before working for the Aurora Fire Department, Brown was a first responder in Texas. “The things they were having us do, we kept failing for some reason, and we were doing the exact same thing we’ve done before,” Brown stated.

Lane disputed the city’s claim that it settled the case simply to avoid expensive federal litigation. “Aurora didn’t pay nearly a half a million dollars because they thought they were going to win this case,” the lawyer said. He credited the win to data, which doesn’t lie.

In a separate case, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that workplace racial harassment is not limited to “explicit” racist behavior. That 2017 case involved an African-American worker at the Connella Baking Co. in Illinois who complained to supervisors that co-workers would refer to him as “you people” in a derogatory way and make other subtle racist comments. Supervisors ignored the complaints. Consequently, the company settled the EEOC lawsuit for $30,000.


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