St. Louis — Former fire chief Sherman George filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the city of St. Louis and Mayor Francis Slay, claiming his demotion in 2007 was racially motivated and violated the Missouri Human Rights Act.
George, who retired in October 2007 shortly after being reduced in rank to deputy chief, is seeking reinstatement as chief and back pay. He was the city’s first black fire chief when appointed in 1999.
Mayor Francis Slay has said that George was disciplined for ignoring an order from his boss, Public Safety Director Charles Bryson, to promote firefighters based on testing that George claimed was faulty. Slay has said the action had nothing do with race.
George claims his demotion was racially motivated, and also has filed federal and local employment discrimination complaints
In his suit, George claims that statements from Slay and Bryson point to race as a contributing factor.
“Bryson admitted publicly that his criteria for replacing Chief George as fire chief in part was based on the ‘race of the candidate’ as a factor,” the suit reads.
“Slay has admitted on the record that he was reacting to community sentiment about the racial component of the promotional lists,” according to the suit.
George appealed his demotion to the Civil Service Commission, which unanimously ruled against him in August 2008. Soon thereafter, George filed a suit in St. Louis Circuit Court asking a judge to review the commission’s decision. That case is pending.
George’s suit asks for unspecified punitive damages and an order prohibiting a racially hostile work environment within the fire department.
Ed Rhode, spokesman for Slay, said Tuesday, “Everyone in America knows that if your boss gives you a legal order to do something, there will be consequences if you don’t do it.” He added, “That is true regardless of race.”