An African American firefighter from the Redwood City Fire Department has filed a lawsuit against the department claiming he’s been harassed, ostracized and sent sexually explicit pictures. All, he believes, because of his race.
“I was harassed continuously because of ethnic background as an African American immigrant,” said Joseph Echema, who joined the department 10 years ago to protect and serve his community.
His thanks, he says, has been harassment.
“I had a supervisor that said ‘why I can’t use the N-word?’” said Echema. “He sees other Black people use the N-word.”
For the past several years, Echema claims he’s been the recipient of vile racial jokes and offensive effigies, and sent inappropriate pictures.
“I had a captain supervisor tell me that Black Lives Matter protesters need to be shot,” Echema said.
His lawyer filed a lawsuit against the fire department and two of Echema’s superiors claiming racial discrimination.
“They can acknowledge that yes he receive a text message that has a racial slur because it’s undeniable, but what they can’t deny and they can act like it doesn’t exist is the overall climate that he’s dealing with,” said attorney Na’il Benjamin.
NBC Bay Area reached out to a number of city officials and attorneys for the fire department, and got this response from City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz:
“We cannot comment on a case in litigation. We are also committed to learning from one another as we work to strengthen the city’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion within all city departments …”
Echema says that hasn't been his experience and that’s why he’s going to court.
“I know the nation is captivated with what happens to George Floyd and police brutality but a lot of the same things in the police department is embedded in the fire department,” he said.