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Former KCK firefighter awarded $2.4 million in racial discrimination, retaliation case

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Posted at 9:48 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 17:20:32-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal jury on Wednesday awarded a former Kansas City, Kansas, firefighter more than $2 million in a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

Jyan Harris worked for more than a decade as a KCK firefighter before being suspended without pay in 2016. The jury voted 10-0 in favor of Harris.

The jury award includes $2.1 million in lost wages and retirement benefits and $300,000 for emotional distress, according to Katherine Myers, an attorney for Harris.

The 10-day trial included more than a week of testimony.

The jury deliberated all day Wednesday before reaching its verdict.

Harris was suspended without pay in September 2016 when he was accused of receiving pay not due to him and for working at the Parks and Recreation Summer Camp at a time he had called off work sick, according to the lawsuit.

Harris told then-Fire Chief John Paul Jones those accusations were not true.

In addition, Harris was was hit by a car and seriously injured in 2013. Harris said in the lawsuit that he returned to work and was told he had lost all his vacation, sick and other time off because of his injury.

The suit states Caucasian employees were not forced to give up sick and vacation and other time off while out because of an injury,

Harris also met with then-Mayor Mark Holland in July 2016 about the way he was being treated, according to the lawsuit.

The conversation included Harris telling Holland about being harassed by a top fire department official.

Holland told Harris he was aware of the systemic racial issues within city government and particularly the fire department, the suit states.

Holland was defeated for re-election by David Alvey in November 2017.

The Unified Government released a statement Wednesday night stating the trial had revealed "underlying and unacceptable issues within the culture of our fire department to address."

“While we support an inclusive fire department, this case has highlighted concerns among some of our personnel that we have more work to do,” County Administrator Doug Bach stated in the news release. “Our firefighters are on the front lines of our public safety and, in 2021, no one should feel unwelcome or wronged while on the job. Consequently, we are taking swift and decisive action to ensure that no one, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion, feels mistreated or disadvantaged within our workplace.”

The trial featured emotional testimony from Black KCK firefighters who said they were denied promotions and sought-after station assignments because of their race, according to Myers.

“We are very concerned about the issues of bias and mistreatment our black firefighters raised in testimony,” Bach said in the release. “We have zero tolerance for this alleged behavior and will be working to address it immediately.”