Ithaca Firefighter Claims Discrimination over Middle Eastern Ethnicity

The case of an Ithaca, New York firefighter is in the news as one of four employment discrimination cases the city is battling.

Mark Hassan was terminated by the Ithaca Fire Department in April, 2011. He claims the termination was retaliation for a complaint he filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights in December 2010. That complaint alleged Hassan was being systematically harassed and discriminated against because of his Middle Eastern ancestry.  

The suit was originally filed in state court on July 1, 2011 against the fire department, IAFF Local 737, and several named chiefs and officers. It includes a list of derogatory comments that superiors and fellow firefighters allegedly made to Hassan, including calling him a “towel head”, “dune coon”, and “Hassan Chop” (after a Middle Eastern cartoon character).  

Hassan alleges that supervisors alternatively took part in the harassment and failed to prevent other subordinates from engaging in it, while the union breached its duty of fair representation to him. He also  claims he was unfairly portrayed as being prone to violence, to the point that in 2009 he was ordered to undergo a “psychological examination without cause or basis”.

The complaint alleges that the various indignities “served as a distraction”, “interfered with his ability to do his job”, and cause him to “suffer harm, including, but not limited to, anxiety, embarrassment, physical distress, humiliation, degradation, loss of pay, loss of benefits, harm to reputation and good name, anger, fear, nervousness, and loss of enjoyment of life.”

The city has denied Hassan’s claims calling them “old, unwarranted allegations”. In October, the city removed the case to Federal Court, a commonly used defense tactic that increases the costs and difficulty of bringing these kinds of cases.

Here is a copy of the original complaint. Hassan v Ithaca

For more on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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