CLEVELAND, Ohio — Five black Cleveland Emergency Medical Services captains sued the city and its EMS commissioner Thursday, claiming they faced racial discrimination and retaliation when they complained about their treatment.
Capts. Michael Threat, Margarita Noland-Moore, Pamela Beavers, Lawrence Walker and Reginald Anderson all say the city and Commissioner Nicole Carlton treated black captains different than white counterparts when it came to assigning preferred shifts and days for which they applied to work each year.
The plaintiffs say that in one instance, Carlton and the city moved a black male captain from a shift and days that had three other black captains scheduled to work. They replaced him with a white male captain, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court.
When the plaintiffs asked Carlton why she did that, her response was that “I cannot have a shift with all blacks on it,” according to the suit filed by attorneys Avery Friedman and Jared Klebanow.
After the captains filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they faced retaliation, and one was disciplined for conduct other white captains committed in the past but were never subjected to disciplined, the suit says.
The city “has been and continues to be aware of the historical supremacist problems within the division of Emergency Medical Services,” according to the lawsuit.
The EEOC issued right to sue letters to the plaintiffs. The suit says the captains’ constitutional rights were violated. They seek an unnamed amount in damages and a court order barring the city and Carlton from discrimination and retaliation.
Carlton on Friday referred a reporter to city spokesman Dan Williams, who said the city has not yet received the lawsuit.
Work shifts for EMS captains have historically been doled out by seniority, and captains have the opportunity each fall to bid on the following year’s schedule, the lawsuit states.
In 2011, a collective bargaining agreement that EMS employees had with the city permitted the commissioner to transfer up to four captains from their chosen shifts and days, and those changes were to be based on seniority to avoid having shifts with too many inexperienced captains, according to the lawsuit.
However, the plaintiffs said Carlton only moved black or female captains. The plaintiffs said the commissioner did not take seniority into account and when confronted, she said she could do whatever she wanted because of the contract, according to the suit.
After the plaintiffs filed grievances in 2017, Carlton and the city admitted race and gender were factors when switching shifts for captains, the suit says. The captains filed charges with the civil rights commission and the EEOC, and other charges followed over a subsequent transfer.
In both incidents the civil rights commission found probable cause on charges and ordered an attempt be made to mediate the dispute, the captains say. The commission and the city resolved the matters without the captains’ consent, according to the suit.
A news story ran after the civil rights commission found probable cause for a complaint in July 2018, and the city filed an unfair labor practice charge against the plaintiffs. The lawsuit says that was retaliation for the civil rights commission’s finding and the bad publicity, and that the charge was untrue.
As a result, the plaintiffs filed more charges with the civil rights commission and EEOC, this time alleging retaliation.
The city then started a “campaign of punishment” against the plaintiffs, charging Beavers with violating the city’s sick abuse policy and restricting her from calling off work for 18 months, the suit states. She was also punished for being late for seven minutes. Others who had not filed complaints were not disciplined for sick abuse policy violations, according to the suit.
“Plaintiffs have been and continued to be anxious and concerned over continuing retaliation by Defendant City of Cleveland in their battle for equality,” the suit says.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge James Gwin.