FEDERAL COURT DISMISSES LAWSUIT AGAINST BROOKLINE FIREFIGHTERS’ UNION
On April 2, 2020, a federal court judge dismissed a discrimination lawsuit against Local 950, International Association of Firefighers (the Brookline firefighters’ union) brought by one of its members. In granting the Union’s motion for summary judgment in Alston v. Town of Brookline, NO. 15-13987-GAO, the Court (Judge George O’Toole) found that there is no genuine issue of material of fact between the parties that needs to be settled through a trial and the matter could be resolved as a matter of law. In reaching this conclusion, the Court stated that the Plaintiff “fails to cite to competent, non-conclusory evidence in support of his objections to the defendant’s cited evidence.”
In 2015, the Plaintiff filed three federal civil rights claims against the Town of Brookline, various town officials, and the Union under Chapter 42, sections 1981, 1983, and 1985 of the U.S. Code. The gist of the claims was that the Union retaliated against the Plaintiff after he protested the discriminatory conduct of another Union member and that the Union failed to file grievances on his behalf because of his race. The Court rejected the 1983 claim, which requires government action, because, as the Court found, ““[t]he factual record does not support a conclusion that the Union was in any way acting under the color of state law… There is simply no evidence that would raise a genuine issue of fact that the Union became so allied with the Town’s actions toward [the Plaintiff] that it effectively became a state actor.” The Section 1985 claim, which requires a finding of a conspiracy between two or more parties, also failed after the Court concluded that “[t]here is no evidence that the Union and the Town were conspiring against [the Plaintiff] to retaliate or discriminate against him” and “there is no evidence in the extensive record that could support a conclusion … that the Union conspired with [the Town] to deprive [the Plaintiff] of his rights.”
The Court also dismissed the Section 1981 claim. To state a claim under Section 1981 a plaintiff must show that they are a racial minority, that they were discriminated against on the basis of their race and that the discrimination implicated one of the activities enumerated in the statute. One activity is the enforcement of contracts; the Plaintiff alleged that the Union had failed to enforce its contract with him because of his race and in retaliation for protesting the actions of other Union members. The Court rejected the Section 1981 claim, noting that “[s]ubstantively, the record lacks evidence that … the Union retaliated against [the Plaintiff] for any protected activity or otherwise itself discriminated against [the Plaintiff] (emphasis included).” The Court noted that the Plaintiff did not approach the Union for assistance: “It cannot be said to have been materially discriminatory for the Union not to have acted when it appeared [the Plaintiff] did not want it to act on his behalf.” Judge O’Toole also pointed out that many of the allegations against the Union were barred by the statute of limitations because they occurred too far in the past.
In addition to dismissing the Plaintiff’s claims against the Union, the Federal Court also dismissed the claims against the Town of Brookline and individual Brookline officials. The Plaintiff has already filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, where the Court will review Judge O’Toole’s rulings. In the meantime, this victory for the Union is an affirmation of their consistent position that they fight hard for the benefit of their members – all their members – regardless of race, creed or color.