Mass. town appeals reinstatement of FF who alleged discrimination

A civil service commission determined the firefighter-EMT, who accused the department of race discrimination, violated sick leave policy but ordered he be reinstated, suspended and demoted


Wheeler Cowperthwaite The Patriot Ledger
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

ROCKLAND, Mass. — The town has appealed a Civil Service Commission decision to reinstate a Black firefighter fired in 2017 over allegations of sick leave abuse.

Town officials fired Craig Erickson from his job as a lieutenant in 2017 after what they say was years of conduct issues, including disagreements with other firefighters and payroll fraud. But Erickson said the firing was the result of years of discrimination at the department, in part because he was black and because he'd filed a complaint about another firefighter's eligibility for a promotion.

The city of Rockland has appealed a civil service commission's ruling that a firefighter who was fired in 2017 for allegedly abusing sick leave must be reinstated. Firefighter Craig Erickson, who is Black, claims his firing was the result of race discrimination. (Photo/Town of Rockland Massachusetts)
The city of Rockland has appealed a civil service commission's ruling that a firefighter who was fired in 2017 for allegedly abusing sick leave must be reinstated. Firefighter Craig Erickson, who is Black, claims his firing was the result of race discrimination. (Photo/Town of Rockland Massachusetts)

Erickson appealed his firing to the Civil Service Commission, which ultimately ruled that Erickson did violate the sick leave policy of the department, but said the town has to hire him back after a 90-day suspension and demotion to firefighter.

The town's attorney, John Clifford, filed an appeal of that decision earlier this summer in Suffolk Superior Court, and then filed an emergency motion to prevent Erickson from being re-hired while the town appeals. The judge denied that motion on Sept. 11 and said in a decision that the town did not show it was likely to win the case or that it will cause irreparable harm.

In the appeal, Clifford said there was no evidence that Erickson filed one of his initial appeals on time and that there was no evidence that he was retaliated against for reporting another firefighter for possible policy violations.

Erickson said he is looking forward to working again as a firefighter and emergency medical technician.

"I miss the job," he said.

Erickson firing was an example of the racial bias and institutional racism he has been dealing with for the past 38 years of his career, he said.

"I didn't want any part of this," he said. "This is a huge waste of money and resources that the town of Rockland doesn't have."

Erickson was hired by the fire department in 1986 and became the only black member of the department, according to the commission's decision. Since then, he also worked as a contractor for two other employers, a public safety-related company and a federal government program that trains first responders.

After Fire Chief Scott Duffey was hired in 2010, he implemented new rules that said employees could not use sick leave "to work at outside employment," the case says.

Erickson missed several shifts in March of 2017 while out on psychiatrist-recommended sick leave for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was cleared to return to work in full capacity on April 3. But rather than end his sick leave, Duffey told the commission that Erickson worked for the federal government training program for several days.

When Duffey launched an investigation into the possible misuse of sick leave, he found that Erickson worked for outside employers multiple times while on paid sick leave from the department, the case says. In July of 2017, Erickson was fired. Reasons given for his termination included disobeying general orders, insubordination, conduct unbecoming of an officer and failure to report for duty, among other rule violations.

Erickson also has a pending federal lawsuit against the town.

Rockland is also appealing a 2018 decision that overturned a 30-day suspension of Erickson, which the commissioner who wrote the decision called a "stark and troubling example of disparate treatment."

The town's attorney, John Clifford, said there has been no evidence of Erickson being discriminated against because of his race and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination dismissed two claims he filed for racial discrimination for lack of probable cause.

Clifford said the type of misconduct the Civil Service Commission found would result in termination at any private employer.

He said the town has been in contact with Erickson about his return to work.

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©2020 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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