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Brookline, a town adjacent to Boston, is saying “I’m sorry for my white supremacist ways” with its wallet after awarding a Black firefighter $11 million to settle a six-year-old lawsuit over an 11-year-old racist altercation. But, according to members of the committee, the town’s history of maintaining a culture of racism goes far deeper than one incident.
According to the Boston Globe, Brookline Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly, but not unanimously, to approve the settlement for Gerald Alston, who filed the lawsuit against the town in 2015 citing a voicemail from 2010 he received from his then-commander which contained the n-word. The exact contents of the voicemail are unclear, but what is clear is the voicemail itself wasn’t the only issue.
MORE: Profiles Of Courage: The Rich History Of African American Firefighters
According to WickedLocal.com, the fire department’s Select Board suspended Alston’s superior for two weeks following the incident but the department promoted him several times later on because, apparently, racial slurs have an expiration date Black people are unaware of.
Beyond that, Alston’s suit alleged that he was subjected to retaliation and more instances of workplace racism within the department. He said that hostility took a toll on his mental health, which led to him being placed on extended leave before the Select Board voted to fire him in 2016.
The Supreme Judicial Court was having none of that white power-ish nonsense and in April, it concluded that Brookline’s handling of Alston’s complaints was “woefully deficient and insensitive,” and, for the first time, the court authorized the Civil Service Commission—which ordered in 2019 that Alston be reinstated with back pay—to “consider discriminatory work practices and the harshness of the environment that employees must work within when reviewing a municipality’s decision to fire someone,” according to the Globe.
“The commission may find that the employer is responsible for the intolerable workplace conditions, including racist and retaliatory acts, that have rendered the employee unfit to perform his or her duties and resulted in the employee’s discharge, and therefore the employee’s unfitness is not just cause for his or her termination,” the court stated in its ruling.
Anyway, back to the lawsuit.
After more than three hours of heated debate, mostly over the price tag on Alston’s settlement, town meeting members voted 186-28 to pay $11 million, a number that was negotiated by Alston’s legal team in September, but also a number some thought was far too high.
Select Board member Gil Hoy proposed to lower the settlement all the way down to $2.5 million. When that didn’t work out, Hoy proposed $4 million, and then $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.”
Oh, I don’t know, Hoy—seems to me that turning the town’s pockets inside out might do more to make people in power think twice before being racist or dismissing racism than a typical “Racism has no place in Brookline, but…” mentality. Either way, the majority of Select Board and advisory committee members agreed that the amount already negotiated would stand.
“If the $6 million settlement passes, we have no settlement, we are going to trial,” advisory committee member Chi Chi Wu said. “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.”
Town Meeting member Kimberley Richardson said it’s time for Brookline to stop ‘hiding from the truth’ of its continued racism.
“The truth is, the Town of Brookline is most definitely a racist town,” Richardson said. “I think this is difficult for you to hear, but it shouldn’t be. 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.”
Of course, it appears that some in the town are still salty about having to fork over all that money, because, according to the settlement agreement, the settlement requires Alston to resign as a Brookline firefighter and not seek or accept future employment in the town.
Listen: $11 million and all he has to do is never work in the racist town again?
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