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Ohio fire department accused of discrimination

CINCINNATI (AP) — A yearslong battle involving a longtime fire lieutenant who says he has been discriminated against because of his race is coming to a head in federal court.

Mark Broach, who is black and has been with the Cincinnati Fire Department for more than 25 years, has accused two white captains in the department of discriminating against him and falsely accusing him of neglecting his duty on a fire. He claims that's because he had refused to help force another black firefighter out of the department. An investigation by the fire department found that the neglect-of-duty allegation against Broach was unfounded.

Additionally, Broach accuses the city of retaliating against him for helping the other black employee by supporting his discrimination complaint against the city and then filing his own complaint. Attorneys for the city said in opening statements last week that Broach has a long history of disciplinary problems and that the case was about an inability to recognize the responsibility of consequences of actions.

City spokeswoman Meg Olberding said in a statement that it's inappropriate to comment on the case in the midst of a jury trial. The firefighters and the city have denied the allegations in court documents, saying their actions were "motivated by legitimate concerns, and not based on any discriminatory motive."

Broach filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the city last August, and the case has been in trial for about a week. Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Thursday or Friday.

"This case is about keeping people in Cincinnati safe during fires and medical emergencies while keeping these first responders safe from discrimination and retaliation," Broach's attorney, Al Gerhardstein, told jurors in opening statements.

Broach is seeking back pay for the time he was on leave and other unspecified monetary damages.

Broach's troubles began in 2009, when he says he disagreed with the way supervisors were treating a firefighter named Ron Evans. He felt that Evans was being singled out because he was black.

A fire chief testified for the prosecution Tuesday that he gave Evans a zero in a performance evaluation largely because of Evans' frequent absences. But under cross-examination from Broach's attorneys, the chief acknowledged that many of those absences came after Evans injured his back in a car accident.

Broach said he was told to participate in disciplining Evans and refused.

Evans filed a discrimination complaint against the city in February 2010. A week later, Broach says, he and Evans were falsely accused of neglect of duty at a fire for not responding quickly enough; Broach was relieved of his lieutenant duties during the investigation, which took four months before clearing Broach of all charges, according to court documents.

Just after being accused of neglecting his duty, Broach filed his own discrimination complaint against the city. Rather than the city addressing the complaints, Broach said, he was further "retaliated against" by being put on sick leave and told to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation. He said was fully reinstated in February 2012, three months after being declared fit.

Evans has a separate lawsuit against the city that hasn't yet gone to trial.

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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