Brookline (MA) Reaches $11M Settlement with Firefighter Fired After Reporting Racist Supervisor

The Select Board said the lengthy legal battle "deeply harmed Mr. Alston and brought discredit to the Town of Brookline."

Abby Patkin

Wicked Local Metro, Needham, Mass.


Sep. 15—Brookline has reached an $11 million settlement with Gerald Alston, the firefighter who was fired after reporting a supervisor who left a racial slur on his voicemail in 2010.

While the Select Board has agreed to the settlement, funding the agreement will require Town Meeting approval in a special session next month. If passed, the settlement will mark the end of an 11-year saga marked by court battles and contentious community debates.

“The Select Board believes this settlement is the right thing to do for Mr. Alston and in the best interest of the Town of Brookline, and we urge all Town Meeting Members to support funding it,” the board said in a statement Tuesday night. The TAB has reached out to Alston’s attorney for comment.

Alston’s case dates back to 2010, when a Brookline Fire Department lieutenant left the n-word in a voicemail for Alston, who is Black. The Select Board at the time suspended the lieutenant for two weeks, but then went on to promote him several times.

What followed, Alston alleged, were years of workplace racism and retaliation that took a toll on his mental health. Alston was placed on extended leave before the Select Board voted to fire him in 2016, claiming he was unfit for duty.

The state Civil Service Commission determined in 2019 the town had been wrong to fire Alston, a decision upheld in the Supreme Judicial Court in April.

In May, a federal appeals court determined Alston could continue pursuing claims that the town retaliated against him because he spoke out about racism within the Fire Department.

Later that month, Select Board Chair Heather Hamilton announced to Town Meeting the board was committed to settling with Alston, rather than continue duking it out in court. The Select Board has been meeting in executive session for months to resolve the case.

Select Board Vice Chair Raul Fernandez and members Miriam Aschkenasy and John VanScoyoc voted in favor of the settlement. Chair Heather Hamilton said she abstained from the vote, while board member Bernard Greene was not present.

In its statement — read by Fernandez at the Sept. 14 meeting — the Select Board said the lengthy legal battle “deeply harmed Mr. Alston and brought discredit to the Town of Brookline.”

“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 board said. “We appreciate Mr. Alston’s service to the Town.”

VanScoyoc offered his own remarks during the meeting, noting he voted in favor of the settlement despite disagreeing with certain particulars, including the amount.

“I will say this about my colleagues: Whether we agreed on that amount or didn’t agree on that amount, my colleagues worked in good faith towards this agreement, and I think all parties worked in good faith towards this agreement,” VanScoyoc said.

If community members take a closer look at the history of the case “and then think about what this agreement will mean to the town in terms of the ability to go forward, I hope that enough people at Town Meeting will agree that this is the right way for this case to end,” he said.

Town Meeting will convene for a special session Tuesday, Oct. 5 to vote on the settlement. The vote will need a two-thirds majority to pass, according to Town Moderator Kate Poverman, as the funds will need to be bonded.

If the vote fails, both sides will return to court. The ensuing court battle will require “significant” resources from the town, putting the defendants’ finances and reputations at further risk, according to the Select Board.

Should Town Meeting approve the settlement, the board said, “this matter will be concluded, and all parties will be able to finally move forward and begin the healing process.”


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