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Brookline firefighter sues town over alleged racial slur

A Brookline firefighter is suing the town for what he says was a racial slur left on his voicemail by a superior officer who months later was honored at the White House for valor.

In a lawsuit filed in Norfolk Superior Court in June, Brookline Firefighter Gerald Alston says that in late May 2010 then-Lieutenant Paul R. Pender left him a voicemail with the slur and an expletive on it.

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Alston, who is African-American, complained to his superior officers and human resources in June 2010, and the town’s investigation found that Pender was not directing his comments towards Alston but toward a driver on the road at the time Pender was leaving the voice message, according to the suit.

Pender was suspended without pay for a few days for violating the code of conduct, according to the suit. But Alston says that after he complained to the town he has been ostracized by Pender and other firefighters in the department, according to the suit.

Pender, who has since been promoted to captain, told the Globe on Friday that the issue was resolved some time ago and he did not know why it was coming back up. He declined to comment further. Patricia Correa, a lawyer for the town, said she would not comment on the case because it is ongoing litigation.

The alleged episode occurred just months before Pender and two other Brookline firefighters received the nation’s highest award for public service, the Medal of Valor, in a September 2010 ceremony at the White House led by Vice President Joseph Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Pender was honored for rushing into a burning and partially collapsed building in Brookline in 2008 to help rescue a fellow firefighter. Pender and three other firefighters were treated for second-degree burns from the fire.

Alston filed the lawsuit against the town of Brookline in June, about a month after Pender was promoted to the rank of captain.

Alston says in his lawsuit that after he reported the racial slur to the town, Pender and other firefighters refused to talk to him, and firefighters would leave the room when he entered.

The suit says that various chiefs in the department instructed other firefighters to stay away from Alston otherwise they could be sued or fired.

According to the suit, Alston felt ostracized and humiliated and feared that he could not count on the other firefighters if he found himself in a life-threatening situation on the job, according to the suit.

He repeatedly complained to his chiefs and to human resources, according to the suit, and then filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in May of 2012.

In the complaint filed with the state last year, Alston stated that he had met with Brookline Fire Chief Paul Ford, who asked if he was still going to have a problem with Pender if they were assigned to work together. Ford could not be reached for comment.

Alston said in his complaint to the commission that he felt the town was treating him as if he were to blame for the negative activity, according to the complaint.

“As a result of my race, the Town of Brookline has not handled the situation in the way they would have had it been an employee of a different race,” Alston wrote in the complaint.

Alston and his lawyer then requested, and were granted, a dismissal of the complaint filed with the commission so they could pursue the civil action against the town in Norfolk Superior Court.

Alston is seeking damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, restitution for benefits he was unlawfully deprived, an injunction prohibiting further discrimination, and legal costs.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.
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