Firefighter Accuses Colleagues of Creating Hostile Work Environment Over His Obesity

A morbidly obese firefighter from Long Island, New York has filed suit claiming his colleagues created a hostile work environment that violated federal and state disability discrimination laws.

John Munro claims that the Hauppaugue Fire Department and the Hauppaugue Fire District violated the American with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law by failing to stop “brutal and persistent ridicule and harassment” related to his weight. Munro, who identifies himself as weighing 347 pounds, claims he is “employed by Defendant Hauppaugue Fire District as a Maintenance Worker” and “employed by Defendant Hauppaugue Fire Department as a paid volunteer Firefighter.”

According to the complaint:

  • In November, 2017, while the Plaintiff was on a fire truck, Lieutenant Jonathan Kriklava and Firefighter Bryan Bagdziunas remarked that Plaintiff took up two seats and that the seatbelt did not fit him.
  • Firefighter Michael Bosi then called the Plaintiff a “fat fuck.”
  • Supervisor Andy Bagdziunas (father of Bryan Bagsziunas) heard the above-mentioned comments but chose to laugh at the Plaintiff rather than reprimand his subordinates for their harassment of the Plaintiff.
  • In November, 2017, Mr. Bagdziunas told the Plaintiff that he should not lean on the firehouse pool table because that will cause the pool table to break.
  • Thereafter, in December, 2017, Mr. Kriklava ridiculed the Plaintiff regarding his disability by telling Plaintiff John Munro that he can sit only in the broken recliner chair in the firehouse lounge and that it was Plaintiff’s “permanent chair” from then onward.
  • Kriklava’s comment implied that the Plaintiff would otherwise break other chairs if he sat on them.
  • Also in December, 2017, Mr. Bagdziunas walked up and told the Plaintiff, “John, you’re fat.”
  • Bagdziunas made this discriminatory comment at “Grafton’s Bar,” where firefighter were gathered after attending a holiday party.
  • In or around February, 2018, Mr. Bagdziunas asked the Plaintiff whether he had a “FUPA” (Fat Upper Pubic Area) while trying to pull up the Plaintiff’s shirt.
  • Bagdziunas then further harassed the Plaintiff by calling him a “cow.” Mr. Kriklava decided to add to the Plaintiff’s debasement by asking him about his “FUPA” and remarking that the Plaintiff had left “stretch marks” on the toilet bowl.
  • Continuing his unrelenting harassment of the Plaintiff, in or around March, 2018, Mr. Bagdziunas showed members of the Hauppauge Fire Department photographs of a grossly overweight film character named “Billy Bob” and told all who would listen that the Plaintiff was “Billy Bob.”
  • Bagdziunas ridiculed the Plaintiff by telling him that he needed to sew two shirts together in order to be able to fit into his shirt.
  • [After Munro filed a complaint about the harassment, he claims colleagues retaliated against him, including the following example:] after an apartment fire in the early morning hours of March 17, 2019, Plaintiff returned to the firehouse to find Second Assistant Chief Brett Martinez and the rest of the crew sitting and eating doughnuts.
  • Martinez then mocked the Plaintiff as he said with a smirk, “John, have a doughnut. I’m not trying to be mean or offensive or anything, but have a doughnut.”
  • Martinez then began to laugh. Second Assistant Chief Martinez was plainly razzing the Plaintiff, in front of his colleagues, regarding Plaintiff’s disability-related hostile work environment complaints.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

US_DIS_NYED_2_19cv4969_COMPLAINT_against_Hauppaugue_Fire_Department_Haupp

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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