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Firefighter wins promotion, back pay in ‘reverse race discrimination’ case

A white member of the Baltimore City Fire Department who claimed he was the victim of reverse race discrimination won a promotion and back pay under a settlement that was finalized this month in federal court.

Under the settlement, the city was required to promote Capt. Donald Dziwulski to the position of Battalion Chief-EMS and to pay $60,000 in lost wages, according to the agreement.

The city also paid $25,000 in compensatory damages and $175,000 in attorney’s fees to the law firm that represented Dziwulski, Lebau & Neuworth, LLC.

“It was a really long, hard battle for my client, who did not give up,” said Dziwulski’s lawyer, Stephen Lebau. “The case started in 2013 and didn’t end until almost nine years later. It was a long battle for justice.”

Dziwulski alleged that in 2013, he was passed over for the position of battalion chief despite being ranked first to receive that promotion. Instead, the city promoted two African-American members of the department to the open posts, using a promotion list that had expired hours earlier.

When another battalion chief position opened, the post went to an African-American deputy chief who was demoted, according to court records. The former deputy chief soon went on leave, and Dziwulski and other members of the department filled in until he retired, leaving the position vacant, in 2014.

Dziwulski filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January 2014, case records show. At the time, Dziwulski was receiving additional pay for acting “out of title,” but once he filed charges with the EEOC, that pay was halted. Dziwulski then filed a second EEOC charge alleging retaliation.

The EEOC found in Dziwulski’s favor on both charges and issued a right to sue letter. The case was also referred to the U.S. Department of Justice, according to Lebau, which investigated over the course of nearly two years. In November 2017, the DOJ authorized Dziwulski to sue.

The city settled the case after U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah L. Boardman declined to grant summary judgment for Dziwulski’s race discrimination claim based on the department’s failure to promote him.

“Most significantly, over the course of several months, Captain Dziwulski repeatedly was not selected for promotions for which he was eligible, even though he was ranked first on the Eligibles List in effect at the time,” Boardman wrote in her memorandum opinion.

“Each time, either African Americans were selected instead of him or the position was left open. Considering these events cumulatively, a genuine dispute exists regarding whether the Department’s reasons each time were legitimate and non-discriminatory or pretext.”

The city’s Board of Estimates approved the settlement in January. The case was formally dismissed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore earlier this month.

City officials did not return a request for comment.