Firefighter Sues FDNY And Colleagues For Race and Religious Discrimination

An FDNY firefighter who claims he suffered years of harassment because of his race and religion, has filed suit against the city, a lieutenant and two of his colleagues.

Raheem Hassan filed suit last week in US District Court alleging 18 counts of discrimination and harassment including race discrimination, religious discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, discrimination under state law, discrimination under city law, and violations of his First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights. The suit names the City of New York, Lieutenant David Hughes, FF Joe Langford, and FF Tommy Donovan.

Hassan, a 12 year Navy veteran, was hired by FDNY in 2013. He was assigned to Ladder Company 159 in Brooklyn, at a station which according to the complaint “is known throughout the FDNY for racism, hostile work environment, and sexually charged history.”

Last December, Hassan was arrested after calling Lt. Hughes at his home and saying “This is Hassan. I’m going to kill the guys in the firehouse.” He was charged with one count of aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor.

From the complaint:

  • Plaintiff Raheem Hassan is a black male of the Islamic faith.
  • Since as far back as the summer of 2015 up to and including the present day, Plaintiff was subject to a discriminatory and hostile work environment and retaliatory conduct by his fellow firefighters at the Firehouse, with whom he had to live and work.
  • On several occasions Plaintiff was told that black people are inherently lazy and, specifically that black firefighters are inherently lazy as well.
  • He endured being called a “nigger” and observed other black firefighters being called similarly atrocious names and subject to discriminatory treatment.
  • White firefighters ostracized black firefighters at the firehouse.
  • Plaintiff Hassan was subject to ridicule, sarcasm, mockery, and harassment due to his religion, color, and race.
  • Plaintiff Hassan’s fellow firefighters would tell him that “black firefighters are lazy and no one wants to work with them,” and anytime that Plaintiff was around other firefighters of color, other white firefighters would call it a “Vulcan meeting” (referring to the Vulcan club, a professional organization for firefighters of color).
  • Every time in what Plaintiff’s coworkers called “Vulcan meetings”, Plaintiff’s co-workers made statements to Plaintiff Hassan including but not limited to: “you guys should stick together,” “you don’t belong here!,” and “why don’t you transfer?”
  • Plaintiff was asked to apologize for the 9-11 terrorist attacks and ostracized for being Muslim.
  • This conduct was reported to and known to supervisors for some time. However, nothing was done to correct this egregious behavior.
  • Additionally, Plaintiff and the other firefighters would go food shopping together to purchase the food to be cooked and consumed at the firehouse by its members.
  • However, Plaintiff was repeatedly told that he had to consume pork despite his religious dietary restrictions, because purchasing chicken was a dollar or two more expensive than pork.
  • Plaintiff’s fellow firefighters refused to purchase anything other than pork for cooking and consumption at the firehouse, not because the cost of the pork, but rather to harass and ostracize Plaintiff Hassan due to his religious beliefs and force him to violate them.
  • The refusal to purchase non-pork products, despite Plaintiff contributing money to purchase the food, was simply to discriminate and harass Plaintiff for his religious beliefs.
  • Several of his coworkers at the Firehouse would deliberately ensure that Plaintiff Hassan consumed pork products by lying to him about the contents of the communal food so that he would consume pork products and thus violate his religious beliefs.
  • Plaintiff was forbidden from entering the kitchen at the firehouse on several occasions because of his religious beliefs.
  • He was also forced to obtain food from outside of the firehouse when the Defendants had prepared meals for the entire firehouse.
  • Plaintiff Hassan would be ostracized from firehouse activities for being Muslim and a person of color, and for voicing objections about how he was treated.
  • He would be excluded from communal activities, such as being in the kitchen where the other firefighters were. He would be asked to leave group settings.
  • He was also told that he could not be in the presence of the white firefighters.
  • On a group chat, Plaintiff was called a “rat,” disinvited from activities, and labeled a traitor.
  • In retaliation for Plaintiff Hassan complaining, he was labeled a “rat,” ostracized from the firehouse and his housemates. Transfer papers were placed amongst his belongings, the word “transfer” would be written on his belongings and where his name was supposed to be throughout the firehouse, and he was told that he “was not wanted,” and “no one would work with [him].”
  • Moreover, Defendants and others would wait on the roof of the firehouse with buckets of water and when Plaintiff was entering the firehouse, they doused him with the buckets of water.
  • Supervisors observed the foregoing conduct but failed to intercede, inhibit the conduct, or provide any relief.
  • Furthermore, on a group chat for the firehouse called the “F**k Shop, in which nearly all members of the firehouse were in, including supervisors, numerous comments were made that Plaintiff Hassan is not welcomed, should transfer, and he was referred to as a “rat.”
  • The group chat also featured various inappropriate pictures and comments, including a picture of one firefighter’s exposed genitals being placed in the face of a sleeping firefighter.
  • This caused Plaintiff to fear that the same sexual assault would be visited upon him because the members of the firehouse indicated that he would be next.
  • Other sexually explicit materials were routinely shared on this message group that was also used for firehouse business.
  • On or about December 2017, when Plaintiff yet again complained to his supervisor, Lt. Hughes, about the unlawful conduct, rather than rectify the matter and help Plaintiff, Defendant Hughes caused false charges to be leveled against Plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff was arrested as a result of the retaliation undertaken by Lt. Hughes.
  • Moreover, Plaintiff was removed from the Firehouse despite the fact that he had done absolutely nothing wrong.
  • Defendants Donavan and Langford have a documented history of discriminating against people of color and making racist and discriminatory remarks in the workplace.
  • Indeed, a firefighter of color filed a police report related to an incident at the Firehouse in which Defendant Donavan threatened to kill him.
  • Moreover, upon information and belief, the Firehouse has a documented history of discrimination.
  • In one instance, a firefighter of color had bleach thrown on his clothes.
  • Black firefighters are habitually ostracized from the rest of the house, called lazy, subject to stereotypes, and called racially offensive names.
  • The history of the Firehouse and Defendants were known to the FDNY, and yet the FDNY did nothing to stop the unlawful activity or inhibit it, at this Firehouse and others around the City, and thereby encouraged the unlawful behavior and allowed it to flourish.
  • As such, FDNY condoned, accepted, and perpetuated a custom and policy of hostile work environment, unlawful conduct, and discrimination at the Firehouse and other firehouses and by its employees.
  • FDNY has failed to supervise, monitor, and discipline its employees and workplaces so as to prevent conduct described herein.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Hassan v City of 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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