FDNY Sued Over Sexual Assault Hazing

An African American FDNY probie who claims he was sexually assaulted during a hazing ritual at his new firehouse, has filed a 38 page federal lawsuit naming the city of New York, Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, a lieutenant and three firefighters.

Gordon Springs claims he was sexual assaulted on May 4, 2015, at the Midtown Manhattan quarters of Engine Co. 40 and Ladder 35, known as The Cavemen. He also claims he was harassed and abused on an ongoing basis thereafter.

The allegations resulted in the discipline of seven FDNY members last October, ranging from 3 to 30 day suspensions without pay, and the loss of up to 15 days vacation..

From the complaint:

  • Plaintiff Springs alleges that on or about May 4, 2015, Plaintiff Springs and three other newly minted firefighters reported for active duty and for an assigned tour at L 35, E 40. As the tour went on, firefighters directed Plaintiff Springs and others to a part of the tour that was not on the guide; the gym.
  • Upon entering the gym, four naked firefighters greeted Plaintiff Springs.
  • Plaintiff Springs attempted to leave the gym but the door was forcibly held shut.
  • Defendant Firefighter Aristy, standing completely naked, ordered Plaintiff Springs to lie down on a weight bench. Plaintiff Springs, who was advised in the FDNY Academy, to comply with orders of any senior firefighter, lay down on the bench as he was told.
  • As Plaintiff Springs placed his head onto the bench, Defendant Firefighter Aristy, already naked, bent down and placed his testicles onto the Plaintiff Springs’s head. As Plaintiff Springs endured the sexual assault he was also forced to watch other acts of sexual harassment.
  • After the incident was over and Defendant Aristy was done unlawfully berating the Plaintiff, Defendants ordered the Plaintiff and other probies to go to the kitchen where they would cook the meal for the evening and then depart for the night.
  • At or around this same time period, Plaintiff Springs was berated by numerous other firefighters at the station house who persistently grilled Plaintiff Springs in aggressive manner asking him, “What are you? Black or what?”
  • In late May of 2015, approximately two weeks after Plaintiff Springs graduated and shortly after Plaintiff Springs was subjected to sexual assault/harassment, Defendant Aristy pulled Plaintiff Springs over to the side at the firehouse and said to Plaintiff Springs “I don’t like you ••• blacks getting on the job this way. You don’t have good work ethic.” Upon information and belief, the statement by Aristy referred to African Americans who were so-called “priority” hires, which was also the basis of a significant lawsuit filed by the Vulcan Society.
  • Defendant Aristy continued to berate Plaintiff Springs and told him “I could punch you in the face and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you called EEO, everyone in the firehouse would keep their mouth shut and EEO wouldn’t find anything. Then, after everyone realized you called EEO, the real fun would begin.”
  • On or about June 3, 2015, Plaintiff Springs’ fire house celebrated “Medal Day!’ Plaintiff Springs was scheduled to work that evening, but unbeknownst to Plaintiff Springs, he was expected to be present in the firehouse that morning for Medal Day. While Plaintiff Springs was in the firehouse kitchen on the night of June 3, 2015, a number of firefighters asked Plaintiff Springs why he was unable to attend Medal Day. Defendant Aristy, however, grabbed a loaf of bread and hit the Plaintiff Springs over the head with it. As Defendant Aristy hit Plaintiff Springs over the head, he said to Plaintiff Springs, “We gonna play later, you shit bag” referring to more sexual abuse. Upon leaving the fire house kitchen, Defendant Aristy continuously called Plaintiff Springs a “shit bag” and told Plaintiff Springs that not only would he make Plaintiff Springs’s life miserable, he would also make Plaintiff Springs quit.
  • On or about June 29, 2015, Firefighter Rix of Engine 40 and Firefighter Sanchez of Engine 40, forced Plaintiff Springs and two other firefighters on probation to “climb the pole” inside the fire station.
  • Out of fear, Plaintiff Springs climbed the pole as ordered. Upon reaching the top of the pole, Firefighters Rix and Sanchez threw several buckets of water and breadcrumbs on the Plaintiff Springs, forcing Plaintiff Springs to fall one story onto the floor. Rix and Sanchez threw only water on the other “probies” who climbed the Pole. However, Rix and Sanchez threw both breadcrumbs and water onto Plaintiff Springs causing Plaintiff Springs to slide and fall.
  • When Plaintiff Springs fell to the floor, he fell a sharp shooting pain across his back. Furthermore, Plaintiff Springs was covered head to toe in breadcrumbs. When Lieutenant Vreeland heard the commotion, he came over to Plaintiff Springs and asked what happened in front of other firefighters who witnessed the occurrence.
  • Before Plaintiff Springs could answer Defendant Lieutenant Vreeland, Firefighter Linheart, a participant in the incident, spoke up and said “[Plaintiff Springs] rolled his ankle over a man hole after he got a call for a stuck elevator.”

The complaint was filed last week naming the city, Commissioner Nigro, Lieutenant Vreeland, and FFs Pedro Aristy, Charles Swift and Peter Grillo as defendants. It includes 19 counts ranging from violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to violation of Springs’ Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Springs v New York

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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