Veteran Firefighter Sues City of Portland, Alleging Racial Discrimination and Retaliation

Jason Wilson says superiors provided his colleagues with answers on exams, unfairly denied him promotional opportunities, and ignored his reports of improper actions.

Jason Wilson, a 17-year veteran of Portland Fire & Rescue, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit today against the city of Portland, alleging that Portland Fire & Rescue discriminated against him in a variety of ways because he is Black.

The fire bureau has long acknowledged a need to diversify its workforce, which, according to city figures, is about 80% white.

In the lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Wilson alleges that the fire bureau “discriminated and retaliated against [him] based on his race, his opposition to unlawful discrimination, and his reports of unlawful conduct.”

Much of the lawsuit focuses on allegations that the fire bureau denied Wilson chances to advance because he’s Black. “Plaintiff and other Black employees of Portland Fire & Rescue have systematically been denied training opportunities equal to those afforded to similarly situated, white colleagues,” the lawsuit says.

Wilson alleges, for example, that when he sought a promotion to an inspector specialist position in the Fire Marshal’s Office last year, he was improperly passed over in favor of less-qualified white officers; that white officers were given answers to test questions in advance; and that he was improperly denied preference points as a military veteran. (Wilson is a former U.S. Marine.)

Wilson also alleges he was punished for being a whistleblower. “For years, Company Fire Inspection Program (CFIP) employees have systematically falsified thousands of inspection reports,” the lawsuit alleges. “In some cases, employees have filed inspection reports without having set foot inside the premises they claimed to have inspected.”

Wilson says that when he reported those allegedly bogus inspections, his superiors took no corrective action.

He alleges that people in the Fire Marshal’s Office also attempted to use inspections as a pretext to conduct improper searches. “In June 2023, FMO fire investigators called plaintiff and asked that they be allowed to accompany plaintiff into a private premises under the guise of performing a fire inspection so they could get the ‘lay of the land’ and look for stolen cars,” the lawsuit says. “Plaintiff was concerned that this would be illegal and reported the request to his supervisors. On information and belief, no action was taken in response to plaintiff’s report.”

The lawsuit also alleges a litany of racist behavior, including an allegation that a now-retired captain regularly made derogatory statements about Wilson’s daughters and on one occasion tried out a joke on Wilson with a punchline disparaging expectant Black mothers.

The lawsuit seeks $1.2 million in damages.

Fire bureau spokesman Rick Graves and Portland City Attorney Robert Taylor said the city would have no comment on pending litigation.

Correction: This article originally misstated Jason Wilson’s first name. WW regrets the error.

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