Government & Politics

Kansas City firefighter speaks after winning discrimination claim against city

Time for the city to step up and fix discrimination problems in the fire department, attorney says

Kansas City Missouri firefighter Tarshish Jones and attorneys Lynne Bratcher and Erin Vernon react after a jury awarded Jones over $350,000 in compensatory damages following a race discrimination suit over promotions in the fire department.
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Kansas City Missouri firefighter Tarshish Jones and attorneys Lynne Bratcher and Erin Vernon react after a jury awarded Jones over $350,000 in compensatory damages following a race discrimination suit over promotions in the fire department.

Tarshish Jones, an African American firefighter who was awarded $356,694 in compensatory damages in a race discrimination lawsuit against the city, spoke Friday about the jury’s verdict.

Jones, a firetruck driver, claimed in the suit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court that the city’s fire department uses discriminatory practices in determining who is promoted.

“I’ve taken it (the test) five times,” Jones said. “Not very many African Americans had been promoted off this list. A lot of us were taking it repeated number of times. Caucasian firefighters were taking it one time and getting promoted, with less seniority and some had less written (exam) scores.”

When the suit was filed in 2015, Jones had been employed by the department for 17 years and had been eligible for captain for 12 of those years. He took the captain’s test five times. He scored high on objective testing, but was “marked down in his verbal testing because he is African American,” the lawsuit alleged.

“Similarly situated Caucasian officers of less experience and seniority and lower scores on the written tests have received promotions to captain, and/or were promoted,” according to the lawsuit.

Jones sued for discrimination in two of the years he applied for a captain’s position, 2012 and 2014. The captain’s test is given every two years. The jury agreed he was discriminated against in 2012 but not 2014. The jury declined to award punitive damages.

The department’s test for promotions is made up of four parts: seniority, a written test and two oral sections. The last three times he took the tests, Jones was in the top 10 after the seniority and written sections. The oral sections of the captain’s test involve responding to questions in front of a video camera, and the video is then assessed by members of the fire department or outside departments.

“It seemed like it was geared for them to choose who they wanted and discard anyone who they didn’t,” Jones said.

Jones’ video test was assessed by department insiders in 2012 but by those outside the department in 2014.

Jones answered the oral questions well, but his score did not reflect how well he answered the questions, according to the suit.

There are 1,356 employees with the fire department — 13.5 percent are African American, while the city’s population is about 30 percent African American, said his attorney, Lynne Bratcher.

Of 199 captains, 15 are African American, or 7.5 percent. Of 28 battalion chiefs, three are African American. Of the eight deputy chiefs, one is African American, who was promoted after the lawsuit was filed in 2015. Prior to that, there had not been an African American deputy chief in 17 years, Bratcher said.

“We are hoping that this decision makes a difference in Kansas City,” she said. “There are brave people who work there and the community needs them and we need the best people to be in positions of authority regardless of their race.

“It shouldn’t be a good old boys system,” Bratcher said.

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar

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