Black Fireman Served Dog Food Gets $2.7M

Black and white profiles
AP
A black firefighter will be paid $2.7 million to settle claims he suffered racial harassment and discrimination after fellow firefighters served him spaghetti laced with dog food.

The award was the latest in a string of settlements by the Los Angeles City Council of lawsuits alleging harassment, discrimination and hostility within the fire department.

Firefighter Tennie Pierce, 51, said in his suit that firefighter Jorge Arevalo mixed canned dog food purchased by Capt. John Tohill into Pierce's dinner at their station two years ago and another captain, Chris Burton, knew about the trick but didn't say anything.

Pierce "took a large bite, at which time he noticed the other firefighters were laughing and making noises," the lawsuit said. After taking a second bite, he demanded to know what was in the food but no one would speak up.

Pierce said he suffered retaliation for reporting the incident to supervisors and was subjected to "verbal slurs, insults (and) derogatory remarks," including taunting by firefighters "barking like dogs (and) asking him how dog food tasted."

A fire department investigation suggested the October 2004 incident was intended to be a prank to "humble" Pierce after a station volleyball game where he had said, "You guys keep feeding the Big Dog."

The three firefighters were dropped from the lawsuit as part of the settlement. As punishment, the two captains were given one month off without pay, and Arevalo was ordered off work for three days without pay.

Along with the settlement, Pierce will be placed on paid administrative leave until April, when he reaches his 20th anniversary with the department. After that, he will be eligible to collect retirement benefits.

"This ordeal has taken its toll on me and my family," Pierce said in a statement issued by his attorney. "I truly hope that my case will make a difference for African-Americans in the Los Angeles Fire Department."

Pierce's claim was one of several cited in a pair of audits released in January, alleging a pattern of harassment and discrimination against women and minorities working for the department.

Last month, the city awarded $220,000 to a firefighter who said he was sexually harassed by the captain, then retaliated against when he complained. In September, a female firefighter was awarded $320,000 because of her supervisor's persistent sexual advances.