Former Fort Valley firefighters file racial discrimination suit

bpurser@macon.comJune 11, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Two former Fort Valley firefighters have filed suit against the city, alleging racial discrimination by former Public Safety Director John David Anderson.

The lawsuit alleges that Anderson, who is white, engaged in “abusive and discriminatory behavior” against the black firefighters and other city employees after he was promoted to public safety director over police and fire operations in October 2010. Anderson was initially hired as the police chief in 2006.

The lawsuit also alleges that Anderson struck Jared Johnson, one of the firefighters who filed suit, and that a passing motorist witnessed the incident. Anderson said by telephone Tuesday, however, that none of numerous city employees also present substantiated Johnson’s claim.

Anderson, who now has his own public safety consulting company, said the allegations are simply those of disgruntled former employees. He said the allegations were reviewed while he was still employed by the city and that he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

City Council fired Anderson in March 2012 amid allegations of sexual harassment, which he denied. Anderson said he’s in the process of appealing his termination through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He said he also understood that the sexual harassment allegations against him were later recanted.

Mayor John Stumbo declined comment on the suit. City Attorney Charles Jones and City Administrator Martha McAfee could not be reached for comment.

Johnson, who served as a firefighter for 11 years, and Billy Parker, who served as a firefighter for five years and obtained the rank of sergeant, filed the lawsuit June 6 in federal court in Macon.

Although Anderson is named in the document, the lawsuit is filed only against the city. The complaint states that the city is responsible for Anderson’s alleged actions as his employer at the time.

Also, the suit alleges that the city discriminated against the firefighters by failing to take any steps to discipline or terminate those who discriminated against black employees. The city also failed to “use reasonable public management powers to investigate discriminatory and harassing conduct that it knew or should have known were widespread and ongoing,” the suit stated.

According to the complaint, Anderson allegedly stated a desire to “change the complexion” of the fire department, of which 75 percent of the firefighters were black. He also allegedly used profanities and racially charged language that was directed at firefighters and police officers.

The lawsuit also alleges that Anderson hired only white firefighters, did not promote black firefighters with one exception, and imposed sanctions on black firefighters for which white firefighters were not disciplined. Anderson said, however, that he filed his own in-house complaint after a council member instructed him not to hire white or Hispanic firefighters. He said he was put on paid leave after complaining but was told it was in connection with the sexual harassment allegations.

The lawsuit alleges that Johnson and Parker had exemplary records before Anderson took over the fire department and that each was harassed and forced to resign.

Johnson was allegedly threatened with the loss of his firefighter certification in connection with discipline for alleged insubordination.

Parker allegedly was threatened with prison time after he filed his timecard in error, according to the suit.

Anderson said the men resigned after deserved disciplinary action, however, and that when they wanted to take back their resignations, the city declined. The lawsuit states that Anderson rejected their appeal for reconsideration of their resignations.

Anderson noted that he did not directly handle the disciplinary actions himself. The lawsuit alleged the actions were taken by others at Anderson’s direction.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, the award of compensatory, punitive and other damages and payment of attorney fees and other legal expenses.

Stephen H. Robinson, an Atlanta attorney representing the firefighters, could not be reached for comment.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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