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News from:
City Attorney Barbara J. Parker

December 14, 2015

Jury Returns Verdict in Favor of City of Oakland in Firefighter’s Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Lawsuit

Unanimous jury rejects firefighter’s claims that co-workers and supervisors harassed and ostracized him based on race

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A federal court jury in San Francisco returned a verdict in favor of the City of Oakland in Curtis v. City of Oakland, et al., a lawsuit filed by a firefighter who claimed he was harassed and retaliated against by the City and several high-ranking supervisors.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker retained Foster Employment Law attorneys Madelyn Jordan-Davis and C. Christine Maloney to represent the City and individual Defendants. Judge Susan Illston of the United States District Court, Northern District of California, presided over the 5-week trial.

On Tuesday, December 8, 2015, the jury unanimously rejected Ronald El-Malik Curtis’ allegations that his coworkers harassed, shunned and ostracized him and other African American firefighters because of their race, and that the City retaliated against him for complaining about the alleged conduct. 

“The City of Oakland takes every allegation of discrimination seriously and promptly conducted independent investigations into each of his allegations pursuant to its standard operating procedures. The investigations did not uncover evidence to support Curtis’ allegations of retaliation or harassment,” City Attorney Parker said.

“From the beginning we were convinced that a jury would not find that the City had retaliated against or subjected Mr. Curtis to a hostile work environment,” said Madelyn Jordan-Davis of Foster Employment Law. “I am pleased the jury recognized and understood the facts of this case.”

The jury summarily rejected Curtis’ allegations of discrimination within the department, one of the most diverse fire departments in the country.  The jury also rejected Curtis’ contentions that his co-workers tampered with food, placed a dead bird under his bed at the fire station and hid his car keys, and that the City disciplined him in retaliation for his complaints. 

The verdict comes more than one year after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the U.S. District Court’s decision to dismiss the case. With its ruling in May 2014, the federal appeals court reinstated the firefighter’s hostile work environment and retaliation claims and ruled that a jury should decide his claims.

On Tuesday, the jury deliberated for less than 6 hours before returning its verdict.

Case Information:

Ronald El-Malik Curtis v. City of Oakland, Jennifer Ray, Joseph Torres, John Farrell and Gerald A. Simon

United States District Court, N.D. California; Case No.: NO. C 10-00358 SI

Judge Susan Illston

Verdict Date: December 8, 2015

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