A federal jury found that the unified government in Wyandotte County, Kansas / Kansas City had retaliated when it discriminated against a black firefighter and fired him for complaining.
The ten juries returned a verdict in favor of former Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department employee Jyan Harris on Thursday after approximately eight hours of deliberation. The jury awarded Harris $ 2,432,000. This is an amount representing repayment, future payments, and compensatory damages for both his discrimination and retaliation claims.
“Hopefully it shows them that you can’t do such people,” Harris said after the verdict was read. “Before you can take the livelihood of someone, especially the one who makes a living for you, you need to do due diligence.”
The verdict closed the proceedings for more than three years after Harris filed the proceedings in 2018. The unified government accused Harris of being double-immersed when he submitted a timesheet of seasonal work done at summer youth camps in the park and recreation sector. I plan to work at the fire station.
However, Harris lawyers Catherine Myers and Sarah Leerhsen have told the jury that a double dipping investigation is an excuse to dismiss the client after complaining about the racism he faced while working at KCKFD. I succeeded in convincing.
“Discrimination and retaliation are insidious. Usually it’s not a smoking gun, not quoted,” Myers said. “Usually it’s a combination of situations and things.”
The nine-day trial handed over to the jury on Tuesday afternoon produced several witnesses to testify about the case of KCKFD’s racial problems.
Witnesses testify that black firefighters are often transferred to one fire station, often handed over for promotion, and actively to work primarily in white fire stations serving racially diverse cities. Evidence has emerged to support the fact that it was not adopted.
Former Mayor Mark Holland once told him how difficult it would be to hire a black firefighter because former KCKFD chief John Paul Jones believed that blacks were afraid of fire. I testified. Jones, who left the division in 2018, denied his remarks. A black firefighter, reflected in a unified government document, was disciplined for complaining outside the chain of command about the existence of a rope at the fire department.
In a statement, the unified government acknowledged that the trial “revealed other fundamental and unacceptable issues in the fire department culture that were important to address.”
“We support a comprehensive fire department, but the incident highlights the concerns of our staff that we have more to do,” said Doug, a unified government administrator. Bach said in writing. “Our firefighters are at the forefront of our public security. In 2021, no one will be welcomed or mistreated during work. As a result, we will be We take swift and decisive action to avoid abuse or disadvantage in the workplace, regardless of race, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. “
In closing arguments, Ryan Denk, a lawyer representing the unified government, pressured the jury to consider whether these stories of racial affairs support Harris’s allegations of racism. ..
“This is where the plaintiff bears the burden of proof,” Denk said. “I claim they are below that.”
The jury seemed to oppose it.
“The verdict speaks for itself,” said one of the juries, Mike Tersausto, as he was preparing to leave the court.
The trial was full of conflicting testimonies. There was a meeting that might or might not have happened. Records that may or may not exist. A statement that may or may not be spoken.
The case could have depended on who the jury ultimately trusted, telling the truth about what happened during the last year when Harris worked as a firefighter.
“Until the end”
Harris began working as a firefighter in 2004 after working at the Wyandot County Sheriff’s Office prior to military service. Harris testified that he had joined the fire department as a continuation of his lifelong service to the community.
Harris’s proceedings ensure that white firefighters injured at work use injured time while he was injured at work in 2013 and was forced to use illness and vacation vacation time during recovery. Said that it became.
Harris said he met Bach in the fall of 2015 with influential Rev. Jimmy Banks. According to Harris, he discussed racism at KCKFD.
Bach acknowledged the meeting, stating that sick leave was one of the issues discussed, but testified that he could not remember the race that was mentioned in the conversation this week. In a previous testimony from the 2019 testimony record, Bach said it was “possible” that race was discussed.
Around the same time in 2015, the Kansas Department of Labor was investigating whether the Unified Government Parks and Recreation Department misclassified workers in the Summer Youth Program as independent contractors who were supposed to be employees.
Harris was one of those employees.
Lenny Ramirez, director of human resources at the Unified Government, testified that he had requested records from the Parks Authority and KCKFD. Comparing the two, Ramirez concluded that Harris was working at the fire department for five days in the summer of 2015, while at the same time claiming payment for working in the park sector.
In May 2016, she advised Harris to take disciplinary action “including dismissal.”
Harris called the Human Resources Department on June 9, 2016 and complained about the harassment he was facing. The next day, a meeting with the Human Resources Department was scheduled, but it was canceled by the Human Resources Department.
Harris then called for talks with the Netherlands, then mayor of the unified government, Bach.
Harris said he had a meeting with Bach on June 30, 2016, where his dissatisfaction with racism was discussed. Bach testified that he did not remember the meeting.
However, Harris met with the Netherlands on July 7, 2016, where he complained about racism.
The next day, Bach sent an email to Ramlies, stating that Harris in particular was complaining about racism.
A week later, Harris was called to a human resources meeting at the city hall. Harris testified that he thought the meeting was to hear his complaints about the harassment of him by his fire chief.
Attended the meeting Assistant Unified Government Administrator Joe Connor, Ramirez, Harris, two deputy fire chiefs, John Peterson and John Jimbelman, and Bob Wing, the union representative of the fire department.
Harris faced a timesheet discrepancy between the park and the fire department, as explained by Connor’s meeting. According to Connor’s memo, Harris did not challenge the accusation.
However, Harris described the meeting as an ambush and said he tried to explain that he had exchanged shifts on the day in question.
Connor later wrote a note to Jones, then Fire Chief, recommending that Harris be suspended on September 28, 2016.
By 2018, he was dismissed after an arbitrator supported his suspension and his dissatisfaction was exhausted. Judge Julie Robinson of the US District Court ruled that the arbitrator had not considered much of the testimony and evidence produced for the trial, so the jury was not informed of the arbitrator’s decision.
Shift trading is common
Harris, like most firefighters, said he exchanged shifts. It explains, from Harris’s point of view, the unified government’s record that he is in two places at once in 2015.
According to a unified government survey, Harris had been working shifts at the fire department for the five days of the 2015 issue. Daily rosters and logbooks seem to indicate that he was at Fire Department 10.
Harris’ lawyer said these records were unreliable. Instead, Harris exchanged those shifts for other firefighters, worked eight or nine hours in the summer camp, and then returned to offer the remaining 24-hour shifts.
Time trading is a common and legal practice in fire departments, and the unusual nature of shifts (often working 24 hours and then 48 hours off) gives some flexibility in moving shifts. You will need. A rare aspect of shift trading at KCKFD is that the person who has a colleague cover the shift is paid as if someone else did the shift. You might expect the deal to go back and forth, but that’s not required.
However, Harris’ lawyer has produced witnesses to testify that time trading records are poorly held by KCKFD. The two trading firefighters had to sign a paper voucher, after which the captain, battalion commander, and division commander had to sign a total of five.
For Harris, there is no time for a transaction slip to indicate that the shifts have been exchanged during the five days of summer 2015.
However, Harris and several other witnesses have reported the general practice of having the station manager abandon time slips, especially for transactions that last only a few hours.
One firefighter said the process at KCKFD was “unsuccessful” and said he avoided trading hours altogether.
The fire department paper voucher used to track the transaction was later replaced by an electronic system.
There was also an annual attendance calendar for firefighters, but it was not reviewed in Harris’s survey.
“If this was being investigated, did you want someone to see it?” Myers asked Connor.
“I think,” he replied.
“I must be the captain or better”
Testimony by Harris witnesses reflects a fire department where black employees are treated differently and family ties with top-notch unified government officials and elected officials isolate KCKFD from accountability.
Long-time black firefighter Terry Allen cries at the stand, remembering how he was handed over for promotion from a firefighter to a driver in 2011 and 2017 after passing the required tests. I did.
Allen was finally promoted last year.
“And now that I’m in that position, all these guys tell me that I should have been a driver many years ago and shouldn’t be in this position as a driver. “Allen said. “I must be the captain or better.”
Another black firefighter, Lee Jamal Washington, testified about how he was called to headquarters and removed a Facebook post that referred to his opinion on police atrocities against black men. I was told.
Some firefighters discussed how the 10th Fire Department, a fire department near Rosedale, was where black firefighters were frequently dispatched.
The former mayor of the Netherlands testified that KCKFD is influencing the city’s politics, especially through its union. Holland pointed out that the husband of Human Resources Director Renee Ramirez works for KCKFD.
“The fire department has passed because of the heritage it has in Kansas City, Kansas,” the Netherlands said.
Bach said in a statement that the unified government had “zero tolerance” for the allegations raised in the trial.
“We are very concerned about the issues of prejudice and abuse of black firefighters raised in the testimony,” he said.