Lawsuit: Wash. FF alleges racist incidents were ignored, downplayed

Everett Firefighter Jason Anderson, who is Black, said he was targeted with racist comments and actions, and told to "suck it up" after reporting the harassment


Mike Carter
The Seattle Times

EVERETT, Wash. — A veteran firefighter has sued the City of Everett alleging he has been the target of racist remarks and actions that have gone unacknowledged and unpunished by fire department and city officials, including an incident where someone left a sticker depicting a gorilla in firefighter garb on his locker.

Jason Anderson, an Everett firefighter since 2003 and one of the first Black men hired by the fire department, alleges in a civil-rights complaint filed Wednesday in federal court that, after he reported harassing conduct to his supervisor, he was told to "suck it up." After then going to the city's human resources' department, a fire department captain sent a departmentwide email telling firefighters to "resist adding outrage culture into the amazing work environment we have."

Kimberley Cline, a spokeswoman for Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, issued a statement saying city officials "take these allegations seriously and are investigating them thoroughly."

"The City of Everett strives to provide a safe and inclusive work environment for all of our employees," Cline said. "We have zero tolerance for harassment and discrimination."

Anderson's attorney, Jamal Whitehead, said his client's experience proves otherwise. He said Anderson continues to work for the fire department, where the lawsuit states he has "received the silent treatment from some at work" and alleges his performance has been unfairly scrutinized.

Whitehead said it was only after Anderson filed his tort claim with the city about two months ago, alerting it that a lawsuit was about to be filed, that the city opened an investigation into the allegations. The lawsuit alleges that Anderson went to his supervisor in 2019 and was told that "we've all heard offensive comments" and that Anderson needed to "suck it up."

The lawsuit says Anderson took his complaints to the assistant fire chief, the fire chief, the city's human resources department and the mayor. "They took no corrective measure and the harassment continued," the lawsuit said.

Anderson said comments about his race began almost immediately after he was hired. He is light-skinned according to the pleadings, and claims that his then-captain commented he was the "whitest black guy he'd ever seen."

Other workers and supervisors, he claims, began calling him "'Juan' and later 'taco boy' because of his light-brown complexion," the lawsuit alleges. Anderson said "Taco Boy" stickers began appearing at his work station and, for the fire department's fantasy football league, Anderson was assigned a team named "La Migra," which is Spanish slang for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.

He claims he and another Black firefighter were teased about not "throwing up gang signs" while on the fire truck, the lawsuit alleges. And in late 2019 or 2020, Anderson claims "a sticker of ... a gorilla dressed as a firefighter" appeared on his locker. The lawsuit alleges it "promoted one of the oldest racist tropes against African-Americans, comparing Blacks to apes and monkeys."

"The city and Fire Department make a lot of statements about addressing equity and inclusion," Whitehead said. "However, it terms of reality and conduct, it's a stark difference.

"Mr. Anderson is trying to make the city live up to the values it espouses," he said.

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(c)2021 The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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