Black firefighters settle lawsuit against Philadelphia

Posted: June 17, 2010

A group of African American firefighters and the NAACP have settled their federal lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia over allegations of racist Internet postings made by white firefighters while on duty.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe on Tuesday dismissed claims against the city at the request of Club Valiants Inc., the organization of black firefighters that has battled the Fire Department on issues of race and discrimination for 40 years.

In November, Club Valiants and Philadelphia NAACP president J. Whyatt Mondesire sued the city and Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents its members. The Valiants alleged that city computers were used to post "racially harassing and discriminatory materials and comments" on the union's own website and another site used mostly by police officers, creating a hostile work environment.

As part of the settlement, the city has agreed to pay $15,000 in legal fees and "provide additional diversity training" with input from the Valiants and the NAACP. The city will also "re-post" the city's policy against using city computers for "discriminatory purposes," said Brian R. Mildenberg, attorney for the Valiants and the NAACP.

City Solicitor Shelley Smith could not be reached for comment, but a city spokesman confirmed the details of the settlement.

Kenneth Greene, former president of Club Valiants and a plaintiff in the suit, praised the city for taking "a positive step."

"It clearly says that now we can move forward . . . and alleviate any of these problems that might arise for any employee of Philadelphia in the future," Greene said in an interview.

"I am pleased that the City of Philadelphia has agreed to resolve the claims brought in this lawsuit and that the NAACP Philadelphia Branch has assisted in advancing the civil rights of African American firefighters," Mondesire said through Mildenberg.

The agreement with the city does not resolve the larger dispute between the Valiants and Local 22, whose leadership is primarily white. The Valiants' complaint said Local 22 has become "a hostile, anti-minority, and offensive union for African American Fire Fighters."

Concerned American Fire Fighters Association, or CAFFA, the local organization that claims discrimination against white firefighters in the hiring and promotion process in Philadelphia, was dropped as a defendant in April.

Settlement negotiations between the Valiants and Local 22 are ongoing, sources said.

Local 22 president Bill Gault declined to comment, as did Valiants president Eric Fleming, citing the ongoing litigation.

The postings on Local 22's website and domelights.com, a now-defunct site aimed at city police officers, included derogatory terms including "apes" and frequent mockery of what was supposed to be African American speech, according to the complaint.


Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.

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