BROOKLINE (CBS) – Gerald Alston had been working as a Brookline firefighter for eight years when he got a voicemail that would change the course of his life.
“I listened to it and I was shocked,” Alston told WBZ-TV Tuesday. “He was saying I shouldn’t go to anybody. If you say something that could be the dumbest thing you could do.”
He, was then Lieutenant Paul Pender. Alston says in a message left on his phone in 2010, Pender used the N word.
“I was angry at that point it wasn’t like he said ‘I’m sorry’ he just came off the top with excuses,” said Alston of his conversation with Pender following the voicemail.
The 50-year-old filed a complaint with the department chief in 2010. But says he was targeted and retaliated against.
Meanwhile, Pender was suspended for 48 hours and promoted to captain soon after his return.
Alston was put on paid administrative leave and fired in 2016. Pender retired in 2017. Alston’s attorney says the town did nothing to protect him.
“In Brookline if the fire department wants to fire somebody, if they want to promote somebody, the fire chief cannot do it himself. He has to get permission and approval from the select board,” said Brooks Ames, the attorney is representing Alston on behalf of the Brookline Justice League.
Last week, the state’s governor-appointed Civil Service Commission challenged the Brookline Select Board and ordered Alston be reinstated. In an 83-page decision, the five member board ruled the town “actively promoted a false narrative of Alston, overlooked retaliation and chose not to impose meaningful discipline on Mr. Pender.”
“The commission basically found that from the beginning this political body, the select board, was basically covering up what was happening to Gerald,” Ames told WBZ-TV.
Ames is representing Alston in a federal discrimination suit filed in 2015, that just finished its discovery stage, in the state’s district court.
Residents are also rallying behind Alston. Deborah Brown is one of dozens calling for Alston to be reinstated and receive two years of back pay.
“We can do better than this, Mr. Alston has suffered enough. I can’t believe anyone who actually reads the opinion would say anything other than settle with the man,” said Brown outside Brookline Town Hall.
The town’s select board, held a meeting on the Alston matter Tuesday night, and has 30 days to respond to the Commission’s decision.
WBZ-TV reached out to the attorney representing Brookline but we have yet to hear back.