WILMINGTON, DE — Wilmington will pay $75,000 to five firefighters who allege they experienced race-based discrimination from former Fire Chief Anthony Goode, the city announced Friday.
Firefighters claim they were harassed in connection with residency review investigations that were conducted by the department last year, the city said.
The charges included “serious allegations of substantial misconduct” by Goode and were being investigated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the city said. Wilmington agreed to “resolve the charges” from firefighters Jonathan Hitch, Stephen Sherlock, Adam Risden, James Grieco and Thomas Cunningham, the city said.
“After extensive discussions, the City, the firefighters and the EEOC reached a consensus this week to resolve the complaints against the former Chief, determining that such a settlement would be in the best interest of the City and the Fire Department,” the city said in a news release.
The terms of the agreement state that:
- The five firefighters will be paid $15,000 each.
- The firefighters dropped all claims against Goode and agreed that there will be no further claims or litigation in this matter.
- The city, in conjunction with the Delaware Department of Labor, provide anti-harassment training to Wilmington Fire Department personnel.
- Residency review investigations related to fire department personnel will be conducted solely by the city’s residency review board.
- Goode will not be allowed onto any fire department property nor may he attend any fire department events if he is employed by the city in any capacity.
The complaints stemmed from residency checks under Goode’s leadership in which a department employee visited some of his colleagues’ homes to see if they met the city’s residency requirement. Wilmington employees must live in the city for the first five years of their employment.
The checks drew outrage from firefighters and public officials who said residency inquiries were the responsibility of the city’s residency review board.
Fire Lt. Tim Taggart spoke against the off-protocol residency checks last year on behalf of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1590 for Wilmington.
“This could cause a serious rift between members and make them feel uneasy or that someone may be out to get them,” Taggart said.
Councilman Bob Williams said on Friday that if Goode was concerned about residency, he should have gone through the proper channels.
“When you get elevated to the rank of chief you’re put in a position of trust and leadership,” he said. “Someone in that role should’ve followed protocol.”
In one incident in March 2016, a Wilmington Fire Marshal’s Office inspector was allegedly punched by a resident during an attempted residency check. Inspector Thomas L. Ruger Jr., who reportedly drew a gun and identified himself as a police officer, was later questioned by police agencies, The News Journal reported last year. Ruger was on “terminal leave,” as of earlier this year, according to city employee data.
Williams believes Goode was on an “ego trip” and is responsible for the actions of his then-subordinates.
“He chose to abuse his rank and use it for a personal mission to try to discipline some officers,” he said. “In doing so, he got a firefighter injured when involved in an altercation and his poor choices have cost the city a substantial sum of money that could’ve been used to staff his department.”
In January, Mayor Mike Purzycki demoted Goode to senior firefighter, a move that allowed him to work the additional months required to collect an early pension. The union at the time called the decision “a slap in the face.”
Messages to the complainants and the department’s union president were not immediately returned.
Goode was supposed to be placed on “special assignment” until he was eligible to retire, the city said in January, but he has been on “approved leave” since he returned from vacation in the spring, according to the city.
Human Resources Director Charlotte B. Barnes said today that Goode is no longer employed by the city.
Contacted by phone Friday, Goode said he was unaware of the settlement and declined to comment.
From The News Journal