ST. LOUIS — A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday claims that a white St. Louis County fire supervisor was retaliated against for refusing to "dig up dirt" on two black employees.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the U.S. Attorney's office sued the Robertson Fire Protection District on behalf of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The lawsuit alleges that Chief David Tilley called then-Battalion Chief Steve Wilson into his office in 2004 or 2005 and used a racial slur when telling him to go through the computers of the black workers.
Wilson, who started with the district in the 1980s when he was 21, claimed he refused, saying, "It just don't sound right, it ain't right." He was demoted to private in 2006 and ultimately fired, with Tilley telling him the reason was his refusal to go through the black employees' computers, according to the lawsuit.
"Employees who refuse to participate in discriminatory activity and provide testimony against their employers' unlawful discrimination should be applauded, not punished," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement.
After filing a grievance with his union, Wilson returned to work at a private's rank, but on probation and with an agreement that barred him from getting promoted beyond a certain level, the lawsuit said.
The fire protection district also is accused of continuing to retaliate against Wilson, including after he testified about the computer search request in a lawsuit filed on behalf of two black Robertson firefighters who claimed discrimination and retaliation. The district agreed to a monetary settlement with the firefighters in 2008, although it continues to deny their claims.
Tilley didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.
Chuck Billings, general counsel for the Robertson Fire Protection District, told the AP that the district has cooperated fully with the investigation and "completely and steadfastly denies" Wilson's accusations. Billings added that Wilson was not disciplined as retaliation but said he couldn't discuss the reasons for his demotion because they are "confidential employee matters."
He said Tilley remains chief, and Wilson is a private and a part-time driver.