FDNY Lieutenant Alleges Removal From Color Guard Was Race Discrimination

An FDNY fire lieutenant who claims he was removed from serving in a color guard at an FDNY Vulcan Society event on account of his race, has filed a discrimination suit against the city, the Vulcan society, and the president of the Vulcan Society.

Lieutenant Daniel McWilliams filed suit last Friday in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York naming Vulcan Society President Regina Wilson, the Vulcan Society, the city and FDNY as defendants. The incident occurred on November 19, 2017 at a memorial service for deceased members of the Vulcan Society.

 According to the complaint:

  • The Vulcan Society is a NYC and FDNY supported and sanctioned affinity group of Black Firefighters. One of their purported initiatives is opposing discrimination within the FDNY.
  • Defendant Regina Wilson was employed by the NYC as a Firefighter for the FDNY and was the President of the Vulcan Society, and was a member of the Ceremonial Unit.
  • Plaintiff and other white members of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit have capably participated in numerous FDNY sanctioned and sponsored events, including events sponsored by the Vulcan Society, without incident.
  • However, upon information and belief, the harmonious relationship between the FDNY Ceremonial Unit and the Vulcan Society took a turn for the worse when Regina Wilson was elected President of the Vulcan Society.
  • Upon information and belief, under the reign of Regina Wilson, the Vulcan Society has engaged in consistent practice of hostile, discriminatory, and retaliatory racism – particularly towards white members of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit, all while the City and FDNY willfully turned a blind eye to such behavior and instead provided preferential treatment to nonwhite members.
  • For example, on February 25, 2017, the Plaintiff was hired as part of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit by Defendant Wilson and the Vulcan Society for a rededication ceremony for the Roosevelt Public Library.
  • The family of the deceased individual for whom the library was dedicated requested a photograph with the participating members of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit.
  • Despite the family’s request, upon information and belief Defendant Wilson did not allow the white members of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit – eight members including the Plaintiff – to take part in the photo, opting instead to replace them with black Vulcan Society members who were not members of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit.
  • The Memorial Mass is an annual FDNY sanctioned and sponsored event honoring the legacy and achievements of deceased members of the Vulcan Society.
  • The members of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit, including the Plaintiff, have proudly participated in coordinating and managing the Memorial Mass in years past without incident.
  • On or about November of 2017, the FDNY Ceremonial Unit received a request from the Vulcan Society to provide a color guard for the Memorial Mass.
  • Consistent with its common practice, the FDNY Ceremonial Unit called upon its membership to find volunteers to provide a color guard for the Memorial Mass.
  • The Plaintiff was one of six members of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit chosen to participate in the Memorial Mass.
  • The Plaintiff was selected to have the esteemed honor and privilege of serving as a flag bearer in the color guard for the Memorial Mass.
  • On the day of the Memorial Mass, the Plaintiff arrived at St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church ready, willing, and able to perform his duties as a flag bearer in the color guard.
  • Upon arriving at the event, Defendant Wilson singled the Plaintiff out from the FDNY Ceremonial Unit and summoned him over to where she was speaking with the head of the color guard.
  • After the Plaintiff approached, Defendant Wilson stated to the Plaintiff, “Lieutenant, I specifically requested an all-black color guard.”
  • Needless to say, the Plaintiff found Defendant Wilson’s discriminatory declaration disturbing and was made to feel extremely uncomfortable.
  • The Plaintiff attempted to defuse the tense situation, make Defendant Wilson aware of her racist conduct and to offer her the benefit of correcting her racially insensitive comment by asking, “Are you removing me from the Color Guard because I am not Black?”
  • This query was only met with further and more direct racist hostility.
  • Specifically, Defendant stated, “Yes, I am” and stripped the Plaintiff of the prestigious honor and privilege of serving as the flag bearer in the color guard by ordering him to “go outside” and perform the lesser duties of escorting civilians and mustering uniformed officers into formation away from the Memorial Mass.
  • The racially-charged exchange caught the attention of several of the event’s attendees, including the Plaintiffs friends, and colleagues.
  • To preserve the solemnity of the day’s prayer and the sanctity of a house of worship and to save himself from further shame, humiliation, and embarrassment, the Plaintiff acquiesced in Defendant Wilson’s request and removed himself from the Church.
  • For the remainder of the service, the Plaintiff performed lesser duties outside the Church and away from the Memorial Mass including securing a flag display against high winds and coordinating equipment.
  • Despite publicly shaming, and humiliating the Plaintiff, Defendant Wilson’s hostile, discriminatory, and retaliatory conduct did not stop on the day of the event.
  • Indeed, Defendant Wilson was determined to make an example of the Plaintiff.
  • Following the Memorial Mass, Defendant Wilson filed a complaint with Captain Vincent Tretrolla – the Manager of the Ceremonial Unit.
  • In her complaint, Defendant Wilson demanded that the Plaintiff not be paid for his services at the Memorial Mass because he did not perform the duties Defendant Wilson reassigned him to perform.
  • The FDNY’s EEO Office performed an investigation into Defendant Wilson’s conduct during the Memorial Mass.
  • According to the FDNY, Defendant Wilson admitted during her EEO interview that she believed she had the authority to request an all-black color guard for the Memorial Mass and to replace any white members who showed up for color guard duty.
  • As a result of its investigation, the FDNY’s EEO Office concluded “there was sufficient credible and corroborating evidence to find that [the Plaintiff] was excluded from the Ceremonial Unit color guard on account of [his] race.”
  • Despite the FDNY EEO Office’s finding that the Plaintiff was discriminated against based on the fact that he is white, Defendant Wilson’s past history of discriminatory conduct, her bold admissions that she requested an all black member color guard, and her exclusion of the Plaintiff from the prestigious honor of serving as a member of that color guard on account of his race, the FDNY Bureau of Legal Affairs shockingly stated in its written response to the EEO complaint that Defendant Wilson’s racist conduct was merely a “subtle exclusion” of the Plaintiff; in essence, once again turning a blind eye to discrimination and creating a double-standard within the FDNY.

The suit contains six counts, three alleging race discrimination under federal law, and three alleging race discrimination under state and local law.  Lt. McWilliams is seeking a declaration that his rights were violated, “compensatory damages for emotional and reputational injuries,” punitive damages against President Wilson, and costs and attorneys fees. There is also a request that the defendants be held in contempt for court, although the grounds for that demand are not made clear in the pleadings.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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