Former Kennewick fire chief sues city over racial discrimination claims, lawsuit alleges

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Vincent Beasley, the former fire chief for the Kennewick Fire Department (KFD), is suing the city of Kennewick and its manager Marie Mosley, in federal court on claims that he was subjected to retaliation and racial discrimination.

Beasley, a Tri-Cities native, is the only African-American firefighter hired in the department’s 100+ year history, the lawsuit said. He is asking for a jury trial, lost pay, and bonuses. He is also seeking benefits for damages for emotional harm.

He worked for the KFD for nearly 40 years. During that time, he said he faced daily challenges that he believed stemmed from his skin color.

“There were tightrope biases is what I liked to call it,” Beasley said. “You’d be expected to act a particular way, to speak up at a certain time. But when I’d speak up at a particular time it was held against me.”

Beasley said his white coworkers did not receive the same treatment.

Even when he moved up the ranks to the role of chief in December 2014, Beasley said he felt the same scrutinization, especially from his superiors.

“I believe what happens at the top rolls down and so the discrimination and retaliation were systemic,” Beasley said.

Five years later, he and the city came to a head when Beasley said they terminated him.

READ: BREAKING: Kennewick fire chief says he’s been fired

On Sept. 22, 2019, the City of Kennewick said Beasley had “effectively resigned his position.” Beasley said it wasn’t true, and that talks about termination started on Sept. 3.

He then said he was called into Mosley’s office for a pre-planned meeting.

“It was really a termination meeting,” Beasley said.

He added that he was sent home after that meeting and did not attend the city council meeting. Beasley said he was presented with a separation agreement containing additional benefits and salary to last for a few months. Beasley said he did not sign it.

READ: Former Kennewick fire chief speaks out about alleged termination

An email from Mosley to the fire department on Sept. 20, 2019, reads in full:

I understand there are rumors going around regarding Chief Beasley so I wanted to let you all know that we are currently having discussions regarding his potential retirement from the City.  I do not have any additional information to share with you at this time and wanted to let you know that I anticipate I will have a decision on Monday and will share the information with you at that time.  In the meantime and out of respect for Chief Beasley and the process please give us the time we need and trust that we will make any announcements as soon as we have something to announce.  The City Council, City Staff and myself very much appreciate the professionalism you all bring to our community.  I trust that you will stay focused on continuing to provide the exceptional customer service to our community that you do each and every day.

Beasley said city council members were not tagged in the email.

“To say I was on my way out and to ask me to sign and deceive and mislead the community that we have an agreement — won’t do it,” Beasley said. “They were speaking for me but it wasn’t the truth. To omit, to deceive, to keep it hidden in my opinion is just wrong.”

Back then, Beasley said he wasn’t “worried” about a potential lawsuit. But now, he said he’s ready to fight for the injustice he said he experienced two years ago, as he believes it’s critical the department become a meritocracy.

“I’m just a man who strives to do the right thing for the right reason regardless of the consequences,” Beasley said. “This is about change, this is about the City of Kennewick becoming a better city for all. The outcome is to educate, to bring about change for future opportunities for minorities and women, and fair compensation for what was taken from me.”

Beth Bloom, the managing attorney, said when she learned about the case, she knew it was a “serious race discrimination case.”

“Being the first Black fire chief in the history of the city, he faced opposition both from councilmembers as well as from members of the fire department himself,” Bloom said. “This lawsuit is very important. One of the things about discrimination that we want to educate people about is that it just means different treatment in part because of race. It doesn’t mean racial hatred or even evil intent. I mean the truth is, in today’s modern world many people engage in discrimination in the workplace without intending to and without realizing that they’re relying on unthinking stereotypes and biases about what different groups should or should not do.”

The lawsuit claims that Mosley illegally held Beasley to a higher standard than white employees; adding that she “required her one Black employee to work twice as hard and be twice as good, to get half as far.”

“This is a lawsuit not just for Chief Beasley but to serve as the voice for all of the minority populations in the Tri-Cities area. All of the minority population and the women who go to work every day and find that they are subject to higher standards, that they have to prove themselves over and over and over again, where their white male peers get a pass, get to get the benefit of the doubt,” Bloom said. “They have to comply with these unthinking and unspoken stereotypes about what women in the workplace should do or what African-Americans should or should not do.”

The lawsuit said Beasley had a number of accomplishments and accolades, including, but not limited to, meeting “over 90% of the City’s defined performance goals from 2016-19, exceeding numbers City Manager Marie Mosley had called ‘exceptional.'”

He also received the Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award granted by Columbia Basin College, which goes to a person who creates positive social change in the community.

READ: CBC honors first black Kennewick firefighter at MLK ceremony

According to the lawsuit, “an independent agency rated Kennewick’s firefighting capabilities as mediocre before Mr. Beasley became Fire Chief, that same independent agency recognized the improvements Chief Beasley implemented by increasing Kennewick’s rating to elite status.”

“When you look at my accomplishments over the less than five years [as chief], that speaks for itself,” Beasley said.

Leading up to September 2019, the lawsuit claims Mosley began giving him new and unreasonable work assignments that worried Beasley he was being set up for failure.

The lawsuit said it didn’t help that he was one of eight department heads, all of whom were white, and that he reported to Mosley, a white woman. His skip-level supervisors, the city council, were also all white men.

“We’re just here about meritocracy and trying to prevent a preferential treatment of one group over the other,” Bloom said.

Beasley said some examples of discrimination he faced in the workplace included when he “shook hands with another firefighter, that individual looked at his hand and quipped, “It doesn’t rub off,” referring to Chief Beasley’s skin color. Additionally, other KFD firefighters — including a current Battalion Chief — discussed “killing” minorities to improve local culture.”

As the first Black firefighter in Kennewick, the lawsuit names Beasley as a “trailblazer” who was never fully accepted due to his skin color, and instead—even in a powerful role—his leadership was questioned.

“He worked under the added pressure of trying not to make any mistakes while his counterparts were given a pass to be mediocre,” the lawsuit states.

Bloom said the “circumstances of the termination were suspicious.”

“Marie Mosley had a very hard time keeping a straight story when it came to explaining why his employment came to an end,” Bloom said. “That often can be an indicator in and of itself. When you can’t tell the real reason of what happened, that can often be because you’re trying to cover up the real reason which we believe is race discrimination and retaliation.”

Since 2019, Beasley has been unable to find another firefighting role. He believes it’s due to “the stigma attached to termination.”

But when asked if he would go back and do everything all over again if he had the chance and knowing the outcome?

“I believe I would. This is an opportunity to bring about change that I’m hoping will open some eyes,” Beasley said. “I don’t believe Martin Luther King Jr. had any regrets for what he did. And again, I’m not trying to measure myself to his standards, I’m just trying to do what he has taught us to do.”

When KAPP-KVEW requested an interview with the city of Kennewick, a spokesperson said they were “aware” of the lawsuit but couldn’t comment on the ongoing litigation.

Instead, they referred back to their statement regarding his resignation originally released in Sept. 2019:

“City Manager Marie Mosley has been working with former Chief Beasley for an extended period of time on performance and leadership concerns. A retirement option had been discussed but an agreement was not reached. Due to his actions, former Chief Beasley has effectively resigned his position as the Fire Chief for the City of Kennewick effective immediately.”

“It’s disappointing but it’s bigger than me and so, therefore, that’s why I’ve chosen to speak up so that others hopefully will have an easier path in the future,” Beasley said.

To view the full lawsuit, click here.