Mark Broach is interviewed outside the Potter Stewart United States Courthouse, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, in Cincinnati, where a federal discrimination lawsuit he filed against Cincinnati last August is being heard. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
by Amanda Lee Myers
Associated Press Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Jurors heard closing arguments in which attorneys invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream for equality Thursday before beginning to deliberate whether the city discriminated and retaliated against a Black fire lieutenant in what he called “a class case of institutional racism.”
The deliberations began after a one-week trial in the lawsuit brought by longtime Cincinnati fire Lt. Mark Broach against the city, claiming that he was targeted for defending a fellow Black firefighter and for filing a discrimination complaint with the city.
In his closing argument, Broach’s attorney became tearful as he spoke of a letter that King wrote from a Birmingham, Ala., jail defending his tactic of street protests, writing: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“I am really sorry, after all these years, that we have to do a case like this in Cincinnati,” attorney Al Gerhardstein told jurors, calling on them to return a verdict in favor of Broach “that will sing to all of Cincinnati that they better wake up and stop discrimination and stop retaliation.”
Gerhardstein cited city statistics that showed in 2011 that about a quarter of Cincinnati’s police and fire personnel were Black but half of all disciplinary actions in the fire department were against Black workers.
Roy Winston, assistant chief of human resources for the department, testified Wednesday that for years, there was racial disparity in how employees were disciplined, with Black firefighters subjected to more and harsher punishment.
“How hard does a man have to fight to be treated fairly by the city of Cincinnati?” Gerhardstein told jurors.
City attorney Augustine Giglio told jurors that there’s a difference between being treated unfairly and racial discrimination.
“(Broach) has no race claim,” Giglio said. “We can expound and preach about race discrimination, but you have to have facts to back it up.”
He said a neglect-of-duty allegation against Broach was initiated not in retaliation but because a fire captain believed Broach didn’t respond to a fire fast enough and allowed a firefighter to go into the blaze alone. A department investigation later concluded those claims were unfounded.
Despite that, the department had a duty to relieve Broach of his lieutenant responsibilities until the investigation was finished, which took four months, Giglio said.
“If these charges are true, this is a serious, serious safety issue and if they’re true, someone could get hurt, and someone could even die,” Giglio said. “Thank goodness nobody got hurt. Sometimes you’re lucky nobody gets hurt.”
He acknowledged that the city has had a history of race problems and called discrimination “vile,” but said that doesn’t mean it happened in this case.
Broach, who is still with the department but assigned to a different engine company than the two captains he accused of discriminating against him, is seeking $98,000 in back pay for time he was on leave, plus unspecified compensatory damages to be decided by jurors should they find in his favor.
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