An ex-Minneapolis firefighter recruit is suing his former bosses, alleging that his path to becoming the city's first Somali American firefighter was derailed because of a racially hostile environment that eventually resulted in his firing.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Hennepin County District Court, the former cadet, Dol Din, said that he was subjected to "outward aggression" both by classmates and supervisors, which culminated with an incident during a training exercise in which one of his training officers slammed him against a stairwell wall. Din contends that he was retaliated against when he reported the assault to department higher-ups.
"Dol experienced discrimination from the outset of his training at the Department," the lawsuit says.
Din, 45, alleges that he first reported the incident to the head of the city's Black Firefighters Association, and then met with then-chief John Fruetel and shared his belief that he was being discriminated against because of his ethnicity.
The December 2019 episode caused tensions inside the department, prompting an internal investigation of two training officers — Deputy Chief J.R. Klepp and Capt. Chad Komarec — that resulted in their transfers from the unit. Din, who first joined the department in fall 2019, says in the suit that he reiterated his concerns to investigators, but that while their ensuing report concluded that he had been assaulted, it made no mention of racial discrimination.
The probe's findings were never made public.
A city spokesman declined to comment on the matter, as did Fire Chief Bryan Tyner. Din's attorney declined to comment.
The lawsuit argues that the assault fits a pattern of mistreatment and discrimination against ethnic minorities that has marked the mostly white department for decades.
In 1971, five Black men sued the department for discriminatory hiring practices, prompting a federal judge to order the department to give preference to applicants of color. Other legal challenges have followed, but change has been slow, the suit argues. As recently as 2016, more than 70% of the department's 415 firefighters were white — a percentage that has only increased in recent years, according to the lawsuit.
Din alleges that he experienced "increased hostile treatment" from his fellow cadets and training officers after reporting the assault, and began receiving negative training feedback. He says he was fired on Feb. 21, 2020 — less than a month before his anticipated graduation date — even though he had passed two certification exams.
"Had the Department not unlawfully terminated Dol's employment, Dol would have been the Department's first Somali-American Firefighter," the suit said.
According to fire union contract, all cadets are considered on probation, which extends for a year after they become full-time firefighters.
The Minneapolis Fire Department is listed as the sole defendant in the suit, which seeks unspecified damages and back pay.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany