NY Firefighter Loses Middle Eastern Ethnicity Discrimination Suit

An Ithaca firefighter who claims he was discriminated against and wrongfully terminated because he is of Middle Eastern decent, has lost his federal court lawsuit.

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

Hassan sued the fire department, IAFF Local 737, and several named chiefs and officers, claiming he was subjected to derogatory comments including calling him a “towel head”, “dune coon”, “sand n[word]”, and “Hassan Chop” (after a Middle Eastern cartoon character).

US District Court Judge Michael A. Telesca had an entirely different take. He cited numerous examples of Hassan’s difficult personality that included:

  • “yelling when there is no emergency reason to do so”
  • “bullying behavior”
  • “purposefully delay[ing] in both responding to, and assisting at, emergency medical service (“EMS”) calls;
  • “to have driven dangerously and aggressively while en route to calls”
  • “to have refused to comply with IFD directives”
  • “to have engaged in dangerous and threatening behaviors toward certain firefighters whom he did not like”
  • “engaging in disruptive and threatening behavior”
  • “he offers no flexibility”,
  • “he works very hard to undermine …[various] officers

Take a look that this quote about Hassan:

“a pattern of… “acting out” and displaying “an increasing lack of tolerance for specific individuals” and “disruptive, hostile, or emotionally abusive behaviors that generate anxiety or create a climate of distrust that adversely affects productivity and morale in the workplace”; failure to meet minimum standards of conduct previously discussed with Plaintiff; repeatedly making references to being “off his meds”; taking sick leave when his favored lieutenant was off-duty; allegations of unreasonable delay in responding to emergency medical calls; refusing to cooperate with acting officers and others; using racial slurs; engaging in “loud and abusive behavior” and “actions while operating fire department apparatus that could frighten and/or seriously injure a fellow employee…”; Plaintiff making comments to “intimidate or frighten a co-worker”; using sick leave at a higher rate than his peers; statements by multiple coworkers… “all indicating a fear for their personal safety as a result of intimidation” by Plaintiff; and in inappropriate behavior during the March 7, 2009 shift training event, i.e., an “increasing level of frustration, appearing distraught, and speaking in a very loud and angry voice” and making “accusations . . . against chief officers . . . that were very concerning.”

In summarizing what appears to be overwhelming grounds for Hassan’s dismissal, Judge Telesca concluded:

“The City has amply fulfilled its burden of producing not just one reason, but multiple legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiff’s employment.”

Here is a copy of the decision: Hassan v Ithaca

Here is another interesting document: Defendant’s Statement of Undisputed Facts – 285431888-City-s-defense-in-Hassan-case

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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