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Judge rules in Brookline’s favor in racial discrimination suit brought by former firefighter

Gerald Alston.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe//File 2019

A federal judge ruled in favor of the town of Brookline Thursday in a civil rights lawsuit brought by a former firefighter who alleged racial discrimination and retaliation, court papers show.

But an attorney for Gerald Alston, who served for 11 years on the Brookline Fire Department, said he will appeal the ruling by Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. granting Brookline’s request for a summary judgment to resolve the matter without a full trial.

Alston alleges he was retaliated against and wrongfully terminated because he objected to the promotion of a supervisor who used the N-word on a voice mail message.

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In his ruling, O’Toole wrote that Alston presented “no direct evidence of racial discrimination” and the defendants “have articulated legitimate non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons for any adverse employment actions.”

Brooks Ames, an attorney for the Brookline Justice League, which represents Alston, vowed to appeal O’Toole’s ruling.

“We’re committed to continuing to prosecute this case,” Ames said in a phone interview Thursday night. “We don’t think Judge O’Toole fairly considered all the evidence in this case, and we’re looking forward to getting in front of the First Circuit.”

Brookline Town Administrator Mel Kleckner announced O’Toole’s decision in a statement issued Thursday night. Alston sued the town, current and former members of the Select Board and the firefighter’s union, and the International Association of Firefighters Local 950, the statement said.

Kleckner did not comment on the ruling.

The suit stems from a May 2010 incident in which then-Lieutenant Paul Pender placed a call to Alston, who didn’t answer. Pender was in a car with his son when, following a traffic incident, he said the N-word in reference to a driver who was Black or Hispanic, according to the Civil Service Commission’s decision.

Pender apologized and was briefly suspended. He was later promoted.

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In a separate proceeding last year, the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission, which had previously ruled that the town was justified in firing Alston in 2016, reversed that decision, saying the town’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of Firefighter Alston’s rights under the civil service law to be treated fairly.”

The commission ordered that Alston be reinstated and given back pay.

The town Select Board voted to appeal that decision to the state Superior Court, where it was upheld, and has moved on to the state Appeals Court, Ames said. He said Alston is currently on the Brookline payroll but is unable to return to work because firefighters must be able to rely on their coworkers in dangerous situations.

“You have to trust that the person behind you is going to make sure your oxygen tank is on correctly, and all that,” he said.

Ames pointed to the decision by the Civil Service Commission, in which Chairman Christopher C. Bowman wrote that Brookline’s “own actions and inactions were the reasons that made it impossible for Firefighter Alston to return to work.”

He said that though the case has been in court for years, and a satisfactory resolution is not yet in sight, he and Alston won’t give up.

“It’s been a tough road, but it’s something he’s committed to and I’m committed to,” he said. “We’re confident that justice will be served.”

Jeremy C, Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyCFox

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Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.