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City of Houston Blames Race Not Job for Black Firefighter's Death, Denies Family Her Death Benefits

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For 21 years, Margaret Roberts served her city as a firefighter. She put her life on the line almost daily and wanted to retire after fulfilling her duties.


Roberts was well-respected among family members and neighbors. According to loved ones, she was a “joy to be around.” But she would never see retirement.

Her diagnosis of multiple myeloma, an aggressive cancer usually affiliated with firefighters and Sept. 11th victims, in 2013 forced her to leave and go to on disability. She later died from the disease in January 2017.

An investigative report by ABC 13 discovered that the city of Houston had failed to give her mourning family her death benefits. Apparently, the city did not believe her cancer was work-related; even after Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Pena wrote two letters to the Texas state pension system and The 100 Club so that her grieving family could get the benefits she deserved, the city still denied the claim. Pena stated in both letters that Roberts developed myeloma as a direct result of her time on the squad and he wrote, “Declared a Line of Duty Death.”

Officials claimed Roberts’ illness and subsequent death was because of her race, weight and family history.

“The city saw the opportunity to re-dispute the claim starting all over again,” said Mike Sprain, the Roberts family attorney.

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