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Former Black Fireman Tennie Pierce Doesn’t Feel Like A Winner
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles and attending Foshay Middle School and Crenshaw High School, Tennie Pierce always dreamed of becoming a fireman, but after being the centerpiece of a politically tested settlement that awarded him $1.4 million, his childhood dream is dashed and his future is unclear.
Pierce, 51, made his first public statements regarding the settlement in an exclusive interview and appeared to be subdued, although he expressed relief that his three-year ordeal has finally come to a conclusion.
He was the central subject in the highly publicized Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) hazing incident where after a volleyball game with co-workers, he was fed a plate of spaghetti laced with dog food.
Pierce says that he didn’t realize what was transpiring while on duty at Fire Station No. 5 in Westchester when he gathered for dinner in the dining hall.
As he sat down and began eating his spaghetti, he noticed that it had a bland taste to it at eating one scoop so he added seasoning and gulped down another portion. He then noticed that all of the crew members were laughing at him.
Disturbed at the events, he immediately left and went to his sleeping quarters and was later joined by other fire fighters who suggested to him that if it would make him feel better they would eat some too.
Subsequently, he told his captain about the incident and requested a transfer from Fire Station No. 5, a request that was granted in 2004.
However, it was the continued harassment from fellow employees and the abrupt transfer back to Station No. 5 which fueled Pierce to file a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles in November 2005.
Accompanied by his lawyer, Genie Harrison, and his wife, Pierce wore a white sleeveless shirt and blue jeans when he visited the Sentinel on Tuesday, Sept. 25.
“For my family’s sake, I’m relieved. It’s been a hard fought battle and we knew what the opposition was about and personally I knew that a change had to come,” Pierce said solemnly.
He said that he was fighting against an institution that has shown racial injustice to Blacks for more than 100 years.
However, he said, “I felt that I was kind of the poster child for things that happened at the fire station for more than 100 years, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel for young Blacks who are going to come into the department after me.”
It is his hope that the LAFD will not wait to investigate charges of racial discrimination in the future. The City has already awarded more than $15 million in settlements in such cases and Pierce’s was just one of them.
Originally, the Los Angeles City Council voted to award Pierce $2.7 million but Mayor Antonio Villariagosa vetoed the settlement. It subsequently cost the City more money by paying a private law firm to look into the case.
During two mock trials, the verdict was twice in favor of Pierce, but instead of forcing a trial and perhaps winning an even larger settlement, Pierce decided against it, saying that he would not have received a fair trial.
In addition to the settlement award, he will also receive $60,000 in lost salary, his entire pension for his 20 years of service and medical benefits for him and his family. But as he admits, he has dim prospects about finding another job.
“After doing something for so long what else could I do,” he said, “Most people are preparing for retirement at the age of 55 and now I have to start over.
“I have always tried to do the right thing, although there are certain things in life that you have to go through. I had a lot to offer to this department, but when it’s over with, it’s over with and it hurts,” Pierce concluded.