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Black Kansas City, Kansas, firefighter files discrimination lawsuit alleging hostile workplace

Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department file photo.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department file photo.

Leejamahl A. Washington alleges retaliation for his testimony in the trial of Jyan Harris, a former KCKFD firefighter who won a $2.3 million discrimination case in 2021.

A Black 20-year veteran of the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department has filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was discriminated against for nearly his entire two decades at the department.

Leejamahl A. Washington says the retaliation intensified after he testified during the trial of Jyan Harris, another Black former KCKFD firefighter who won a $2.3 million discrimination case against the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, in April 2021, according to a lawsuit filed January 23.

After he gave that testimony, Washington says he was frequently moved from station to station instead of being allowed to stay at his permanent station, No. 16. He was most often moved to the two “Black stations,” stations No. 10 and No. 7, the lawsuit alleges.

“As part of this pattern, (the department) would segregate many of its Black firefighters by station,” the lawsuit reads.

Washington was suspended without pay in November 2021, and he resorted to taking medication for his anxiety and depression, his lawsuit says.

Unified Government spokesperson Krystal McFeders said she had no comment on the lawsuit while it is ongoing.

Among other claims, Washington says that during his first year on the job he saw other employees wearing Nazi memorabilia with swastikas. Years later, he found a noose in fire station No. 18 in front is his locker, the suit says. He was also asked to clean up someone else’s tobacco spit, which white firefighters were not asked to do, the suit says.

All his complaints to human resources were ignored, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims harassment based on race, a hostile workplace and retaliation. Washington seeks damages for emotional distress, pain and suffering, past and future wages and benefits, among other things.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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