A former Mobile Fire-Rescue Department captain, accused of using a racial slur in the presence of the first and only female African-American firefighter in the city, has been demoted.
A pre-disciplinary document , signed by Mobile Mayor Sam Jones, shows Roderick Kesterson was initially given a harsher punishment in June, when he was demoted to firefighter.
Kesterson appealed the decision and a hearing was scheduled before the Mobile County Personnel Board Thursday, October 4.
At the hearing, City Attorney Ashton Hill announced the city and Kesterson had reached a settlement. The settlement gave Kesterson a promotion from his initial punishment.
Kesterson’s attorney, Ed Smith, said a three-member panel first recommended the demotion to driver, but the decision was made to go with a harsher punishment in June. The decision was reversed in the settlement.
“In the spirit of trying to be fair to [Kesterson] and the process and those offended, we went back to the panel’s recommendation,” said Smith.
A pre-disciplinary action notice stated Roderick A. Kesterson was involved in “conduct unbecoming an employee in public service”. It also states Kesterson violated two Mobile Fire-Rescue Department general rules, including using “abusive, obscene language”.
FOX10 News has confirmed the victim, a firefighter of 17 years, was in the presence of Kesterson when the comment was made.
In a summary, the document states Kesterson, while on duty, “did use inappropriate, derogatory and offensive language of a racial nature in the presence of two subordinates.”
Smith said Kesterson has apologized for the comments and has already served a 30-day suspension without pay for the incident.
“This hearing was about an unfortunate mistake that Mr. Kesterson made with the best of intentions, and he said a couple things that were offensive to some of the other members of the fire department, and it came to light to the chief and the city, and he was punished rather severely for it,” said Smith.
We asked Smith how Kesterson had the “best of intentions” when he used the racial slur.
“It wasn’t that he said anything derogatory. He was actually very sympathetic to the plight of African Americans and Native Americans. It was the words he chose in characterizing those people that were offensive,” said Smith.
The victim had no comment.
Kesterson will now hold the position of driver.
The city released the following statement after the hearing:
“Mr. Kesterson exercised his right under the Mobile County Personnel Board Rules and appealed the City‘s decision to the Mobile County Personnel Board.
Mr. Kesterson and the City were both represented by counsel in the appeal before the Personnel Board appeal. That appeal was settled by an agreement between the parties reducing the demotion to one rank instead of two, with the understanding that the employee will not supervise other employees, and sustaining without change the 30 day suspension without pay.
This form of negotiated settlement between attorneys representing the employee and the City is common in appeals to the Personnel Board.”
The Executive Board of the Progressive Black Firefighters Inc. has released a statement on the Kesterson settlement. In part it reads:
“…It is the stand of our organization that today’s actions will continue to fosters a work place that will breed discrimination and harassment. We support Firefighter Williams for her action to come forth and advised the administration of the hostile work environment in which she was subjected. We understand that more minorities in this department have been subjected to these or similar actions and this should not be tolerated.”
Views – 102