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Brookline and former firefighter agree to $11 million to settle racial discrimination suit

Gerald Alston, a Brookline firefighter who was recently fired from his job, poses for a portrait in his lawyer's office in Brookline.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe//File 2019

A former Brookline firefighter who battled the town for 11 years over an alleged racist work environment has reached an $11 million settlement with the town, officials said Tuesday.

Gerald Alston, who is Black, filed suit against the town of Brookline and others in federal court in 2015 alleging racial discrimination at the hands of the fire department.

The settlement “is poised to end a painful 11-year saga which deeply harmed Mr. Alston and brought discredit to the Town of Brookline,” Brookline’s select board said in a statement announcing the settlement.

Alston declined to comment when reached by telephone Wednesday evening.


In 2010, Alston’s then-commander, Paul Pender, mistakenly left a voicemail on Alston’s line that used a racial slur to describe another driver. Alston reported the incident and Pender faced minimal punishment before receiving a series of promotions at the department.

Alston was put on leave by the fire department in December 2013, and fired in 2016. He had intended to ask for a transfer, citing a hostile work environment in the wake of his decision to report Pender, the Globe reported.

In April, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the town was wrong to fire Alston and called the handling of his complaints “woefully deficient and insensitive,” the Globe reported.

The town acknowledged missteps made in the handling of Alston’s case on Tuesday.

“This Select Board extends to Mr. Alston our sincere apologies for the Town’s mistakes, and our commitment to seriously address racist and other discriminatory behaviors,” the statement said.

The settlement is contingent on a vote by Town Meeting members to authorize the funding on Oct. 5, according to the statement.

If the funding is not authorized, the town warned that “all parties will return to court where the finances and reputations of the Town and the individual defendants are further at risk, and where the Town will need to expend significant resources at trial.”


Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this story.

Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9.