Minneapolis council OKs $105,000 settlement with Somali-American firefighter cadet

Published: February 15, 2022

Lawsuit said training captain slammed cadet against wall, judged more harshly than whites.

The Minneapolis City Council approved a $105,000 settlement with a former Somali-American firefighter cadet who said he encountered a hostile work environment that culminated in his unlawful termination. 

Displaced by civil war, Somali refugees began arriving in Minnesota in the early 1990s. 

In his lawsuit, Din Dol said he would have been the city’s first Somali-American firefighter had he not been terminated. 

He was hired as a firefighter cadet in September 2019, and said he encountered discrimination from the start. Dol alleged Training Captain Chad Komarec scrutinized his performance more harshly than that of the other predominantly white cadets, grabbing and shoving him against a wall two months into his training.

After an internal investigation, in January 2020 the MFD substantiated Dol’s allegation that he was slammed against a wall, but said nothing about his report of racial discrimination. Komarec and Deputy Chief J.R. Klepp were later removed from the department’s training division.

Dol said after he reported the assault and discrimination, he experienced

increased hostile treatment from his fellow cadets and training captains and began getting negative weekly performance reviews.

Later that month, two days after the Star Tribune published a story about Komarec and Klepp’s reassignment, Chief Bryan Tyner — the city’s second Black fire chief — interrupted a training lecture to tell the class a cadet didn’t follow the chain of command, Dol’s lawsuit alleged. Tyner ordered the cadets to talk to captains if they had any issues, threatening to fire the next person who went outside the chain of command, Dol alleged.

That same day, Dol sent the chief a letter describing continued discrimination and retaliation, but said the chief never responded and the department didn’t investigate his allegations.

Dol passed two subsequent firefighter certification exams in February 2020, and just needed to complete a hazmat operations test before he could graduate from his training in March 2020, but MFD terminated him, saying he didn’t pass the exams.

After a closed-door meeting Thursday, the City Council voted to approve the settlement with Dol. 

The Minneapolis Fire Department has a history of discrimination against people of color, employing almost none from 1930 to 1979.

In 1971 — 20 years after the last Black firefighter was hired, and then fired for wearing a blue rather than a gray shirt to a fire, according to the Star Tribune — a federal judge found the all-white department illegally discriminated against people of color, and ordered it to change hiring practices from 1979 to 2001. 

As of 2016, over 70% of the department’s 415 firefighters were white, according to Dol’s lawsuit, and by 2021 the number hadn’t changed much. Dol alleged in his lawsuit that most of the department’s roughly 400 sworn firefighters are still white. 

The city has not yet responded to a request for the latest numbers, and MFD has not responded to a request for comment.

Stallings lawsuit discussed

The City Council also went into a closed-door meeting Thursday to discuss a St. Paul man’s civil lawsuit against the city. 

Jaleel Stallings sued the city after a Minneapolis SWAT team drove around firing marking rounds at citizens and protesters out past curfew five days after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Stallings was hit in the chest while standing in a parking lot on Lake Street, and thought he’d been hit by a bullet, so he fired back with his pistol. He later said he thought he’d been hit by white supremacists the governor had warned the public about. 

Stallings, a military veteran with a gun permit, later said he purposely missed the police officers in the van, and only realized they were cops when they jumped out of the van yelling “shots fired!” He dropped his pistol and dropped to the ground with his hands outstretched, but was beaten by two officers, fracturing his eye socket. 

The City Council agenda indicated the council was briefed on the case, but no action was taken afterward. Stallings’ attorney declined to comment.

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