A Black Newton firefighter filed a lawsuit this week against the city for creating a hostile work environment for Black firefighters.
NEWTON, MA — A Black Newton firefighter filed a lawsuit this week against the city for creating a hostile work environment.
In a lawsuit filed in Middlesex Superior Court, 17-year veteran firefighter Lee Gilliam said a superior called him a “monkey” degraded him and his fellow firefighters made demeaning comments about Black people and criticized him when he complained.
Patch has reached out to the city of Newton for comment.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of an April decision by the state’s highest court that found Brookline was wrong to fire a firefighter saying he was unfit for duty several years after he reported racial harassment and retaliation.
The Supreme Judicial Court said Brookline was responsible for Gerald Alston’s “unfitness” for duty, because of the way the town handled the racist incident.
Gilliam, a Newton resident began working for the city fire department in 2014. He’s one of about 10 Black firefighters in the entire city. He argued in the lawsuit, that that imbalance has fostered a hostile work environment. It’s an environment, the complaint reads, where white firefighters are left free to make insensitive and degrading comments toward people of color without consequence – from using degrading language to describe Black people to promoting a firefighter with a tattoo of the Betsy Ross Flag, which has been used by white supremacists.
In 2008, Gilliam reported that a higher ranking white firefighter “used the ‘N-word’ with the intent of degrading Gilliam.” He said when he went to the lieutenant to express his concern, the firefighter brushed it aside, saying it was a common word, citing its use in rap music. After the city investigated and found the lieutenant had used a racial slur, Gilliam was transferred. Then, in 2013, Gilliam was transferred from his preferred firehouse because that lieutenant was being assigned there.