Brookline Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to approve $11 million to settle a long-running legal dispute with a former firefighter who alleged racial discrimination in the fire department.
Gerald Alston, who is Black, filed a racial discrimination suit against the town and others in federal court in 2015, citing a voicemail he received from his former commander in 2010 containing a racial slur. In April, the Supreme Judicial Court unanimously sided with Alston, calling out the town’s handling of Alston’s complaints as “woefully deficient and insensitive.”
After more than three hours of heated discussion, town meeting members voted 186-28 to pay the $11 million settlement negotiated by the town and Alston’s legal team in mid-September. There were 11 abstentions to the vote.
“As I’ve noted, this 11-year saga has brought discredit to the Town of Brookline,” said Raul Fernandez, Brookline Select Board vice chair. “Win or lose, further litigating this matter will reinforce the narrative that Brookline is a racially-hostile community.”
Town meeting members scrapped several proposed amendments , including three proposed by former Select Board member Gil Hoy, which offered to lower the settlement amount to $2.5 million, $4 million, or $6 million.
“Racism has no place in Brookline,” Hoy said. “But I don’t see how an $11 million settlement could be appropriate or fair in relation to the merits of the case that remains, and the town’s other important needs, or be particularly meaningful in fighting against racism.”
While Hoy and others said the settlement amount was too high, Select Board and advisory committee members said $11 million was the final amount Alston’s legal team was willing to negotiate.
“If the $6 million settlement passes, we have no settlement, we are going to trial,” said advisory committee member Chi Chi Wu. “The fact that the town allowed Alston to be ostracized, isolated, marginalized, because he complained about racism, is at the very heart of this case. If the incident itself had been properly dealt with, we would not have this stunningly awful case.”
Town Meeting member Kimberley Richardson said it’s time the town stops ‘hiding from the truth’ of its racially-charged past.
“The truth is, the Town of Brookline is most definitely a racist town. I think this is difficult for you to hear, but it shouldn’t be,” Richardson said. “The town discriminated against Gerald Alston, the town retaliated against Gerald Alston, the town caused Gerald Alston emotional distress, and now the town needs to do the right thing.”
Katie Redefer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.