The town of Brookline was not justified in firing a black firefighter who reported racial discrimination, the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission has ruled.
Former Brookline firefighter Gerald Alston Jr. was terminated in 2016 after he expressed concerns about racism in the department.
In its ruling, published Friday, the commission said Brookline did not properly discipline superior officer Paul Pender for using a racial slur in a voicemail message he left Alston in 2010. Pender was even promoted after a short suspension, the commission noted, calling it a "perplexing" action that showed the town "was not taking the matter seriously."
The commission also said Brookline overlooked ongoing retaliation against Alston by Pender and others in the following years, and actively promoted a false narrative that Alston was a paranoid employee.
"It is difficult to imagine a more stressful situation for an employee than when a supervisor, who had recently made a racist comment, is now attacking the employee for reporting it," the commission's ruling read.
Alston said he now feels vindicated.
"I was never crazy. They tried to make it out to be like I was crazy. They tried to make it out like I was being vindictive and I was just doing this out of spite for some odd reason. This proves otherwise," Alston said in a phone interview.
The commission ordered Alston be reinstated as a firefighter "without loss of compensation or other rights." According to Alston's attorney Brooks Ames, the reinstatement could potentially mean being placed on leave with pay unless something else is worked out with the town.
"The number one message I hope this ruling sends is to those just like myself that are dealing with any kind of racial discrimination within the town of Brookline to not be afraid to step up," Alston said.
The commission had previously dismissed Alston's case without a hearing, but last year was ordered by Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins to determine whether Brookline had wrongfully terminated Alston.
The town of Brookline now has 30 days to appeal the commission's new ruling. Alston also has a pending federal civil rights lawsuit against the town.