Fired Kennewick fire chief sues, saying racial discrimination cost him his job | Seattle Times

KENNEWICK – Former Kennewick Fire Chief Vince Beasley is suing the city of Kennewick in federal court, claiming he was fired because he is black and opposes discriminatory practices against racial minorities and people. women.

Beasley, a Tri-Cities native, worked for the Kennewick Fire Department for 40 years, including as chief from 2014 until his dismissal in September 2019.

He is seeking a jury trial and seeks lost wages, bonuses and benefits, as well as emotional damages and punitive damages.

Beasley, who continues to live in the Tri-Cities, was unable to find another job as a firefighter. The stigma of being fired after nearly 40 years made it extremely difficult to be hired for another job as a firefighter, he said.

Beasley’s attorney says Kennewick Town Manager Marie Mosley, who is named as a defendant, unlawfully held Beasley to a higher standard than white employees.

“She asked her black employee to work twice as hard and be twice as good, to go half as far,” Beasley’s attorney, Beth Bloom of Seattle, said in the lawsuit.

Beasley met more than 90% of city-set performance goals from 2016 to 2019, which was above numbers that Mosley called “exceptional,” according to the U.S. District Court lawsuit.

He has received numerous awards and scholarships, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Spirit Award from Columbia Basin College.

As fire chief, he improved the city’s firefighting capabilities, according to an assessment by an independent agency, which the city touted in a press release three months before his firing, according to the lawsuit.

The Washington State Survey & Rating Bureau gave the city a community protection class rating of four under Beasley’s predecessor and improved it to three, according to the lawsuit. In 2019, only five cities in Washington State were rated higher.

In the final months before Beasley was fired, Mosley began giving him new excessive and unreasonable work assignments, according to the lawsuit.

Beasley feared defeat but worked longer and harder to meet the demands, the lawsuit said.

On September 3, 2019, Mosley demanded that Beasley resign or she would fire him. He refused to resign and on September 18 was fired, according to the lawsuit.

Beasley believes Mosley was influenced by discriminatory comments based on racial double standards from city employees and leaders. Members of the Kennewick Fire Department union also gave discriminatory comments, according to the lawsuit.

Kennewick officials referred a request for comment on the lawsuit to the city’s insurer, which was not immediately ready to issue a statement.

Upon his departure in 2019, city officials said they could not release sensitive personnel information and that Beasley had resigned.

“It’s fair to say the city manager was working on a possible retirement deal, couldn’t get it done, and then the chief took his own action,” a spokeswoman told the Herald at the time.

Beasley told the Herald at the time that he refused the separation agreement and was placed on administrative leave before being ousted.

Alone black firefighter

“It is not surprising that City Manager Mosley discriminated against and retaliated against Chief Beasley given that a discriminatory culture has consistently permeated senior management and firefighters in city government,” the lawsuit states. .

The city’s other seven department heads were white, according to the lawsuit, and all seven city council members while Beasley was chief were white men.

Beasley is the only black firefighter hired in Kennewick for more than 100 years, according to the lawsuit, which says he faced a discriminatory culture in city government.

In one example, when shaking hands with another firefighter, that firefighter looked at his hands and joked, “It doesn’t fade,” in reference to Beasley’s skin color.

Other Kennewick firefighters, including a battalion chief, discussed “killing” minorities to improve local culture, according to the lawsuit.

“Chief Beasley observed that he had to walk a tightrope that white employees did not,” the lawsuit said. “If he was quiet, Mosley would tell him to speak up and be assertive. Then when he spoke, Mosley would criticize him for doing so.”

According to the lawsuit, this happened frequently to Beasley when he attended meetings, but white employees were allowed to speak freely.

For example, after a fire in 2018, City Manager Mosley criticized Beasley for initially listening to and evaluating information, according to the lawsuit.

“Then when he started talking about this fire addressing minority communities, she criticized him for it,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit emphasizes that as a fire chief, Beasley had to lead and assert himself.

“But a black man, according to strong stereotypes, must remain deferential and subordinate,” the lawsuit said.

In late 2018, Beasley began openly opposing the city’s racist and sexist culture and hiring and retention practices, which favored white men, according to the lawsuit.

He told the Tri-City Herald he was forced to fire two women who worked for him.

Mosley reacted to Beasley’s concerns “with cold silence and becoming distant,” the lawsuit said.

In his annual performance review in March 2019, his 2018 performance was rated negatively, with no mention of his success in meeting city goals and improving fire safety ratings.

“Chief Beasley speaking out and being assertive about discrimination in late 2018 sparked racial bias,” the lawsuit said. “Ms. Mosley assessed Chief Beasley’s performance differently partly because of his race, whether she was aware of it or not.”

He encouraged her to “serve more than just white residents” and demanded that she “hire more than just white men for vacancies.”

Past issues

Beasley was named fire chief after a few years of disarray in the department, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that fire department employees were known to have sex on the job, abuse sick leave and exercise instead of performing their duties.

Response time to emergency calls increased and during a major fire Kennewick firefighters abandoned their duties to watch television and read the newspaper, leaving other fire departments in the city to fight a fire within the city limits of Kennewick, according to the lawsuit.

However, the former fire chief, who was white, was not fired, according to the lawsuit.

Two other city department heads, both white men, were also not fired even though their performance fell short of Beasley’s, according to the lawsuit.

Mosley gave white subordinates repeated chances for improvement and long terms, but quickly fired the sole minority leader after a single negative performance review that was inaccurate and damaging, according to the lawsuit.

In fact, the human resources director assured Beasley that he would not be fired because the other department heads performed so poorly and were not fired, according to the lawsuit.

In a letter dated the day Beasley was fired, Mosley said she fired him for misconduct and falsely claimed he had submitted a notice of resignation, according to the lawsuit. .

Although Mosley issued a press release saying he had resigned, the lawsuit said that in fact he was fired.

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