Houston, TX — The family of Margaret Roberts, a Black firefighter with the Houston Fire Department who died battling cancer directly caused by her work as confirmed by the fire department chief, has been fighting to have her pension benefits. Their case is more than a year old, but the city of Houston refuses to compensate them claiming that her illness was caused by her being Black.
For more than 21 years, Margaret was in service as a firefighter for the Houston Fire Department, until she began to suffer from multiple myeloma.
“I had to sit there for almost five years and watch her die daily,” Margaret’s husband, Daniel Roberts, said.
Since her death in January 2017, her family has been dealing with her loss and with the fight for the benefits she has earned but hasn’t been granted.
Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Pena wrote in a letter to the state pension three months after Roberts’ death confirming that it “was a result of an illness sustained in the line of duty.” After that, he also wrote a letter to 100 Club saying that it was “Declared a Line of Duty Death.”
The confirmations made by the fire department chief himself should have entitled Roberts’ family to benefits paid by groups besides the city of Houston. However, the benefits from city funds are ultimately being brought to court.
“The city saw the opportunity to re-dispute the claim starting all over again,” said Roberts attorney Mike Sprain.
The city has already lost the case for Roberts’ health benefits when she was alive but they’re trying to fight again on a similar issue now that she’s dead, claiming that her multiple myeloma was not caused by her work as a firefighter, but instead of her weight, family history, and race.
Meanwhile, Robert’s occupational doctor declared in 2013, “In my professional opinion, Margaret Roberts’ multiple myeloma is work-related.”
The International Firefighters Union, as well as four states in the US, specifically recognize the connection of firefighting to multiple myeloma. There are also studies that confirmed an “increased” or “significantly elevated” risk for firefighters getting multiple myeloma.
Yet Texas ignores all these and instead decides to follow the recommendation from United Nations that doesn’t categorically link cancer to firefighting.
“I guess they don’t want to pay the benefits that me and my kids have coming,” Daniel Roberts said.
The city didn’t make any comment about the lawsuit.