NJ Firefighter Alleges Race Discrimination

A New Jersey firefighter who claims he was subjected to “severe and pervasive” race discrimination culminating in his being passed-over for promotion, has filed suit against his fire chief and the city. Chris Williams filed suit against the City of Vineland and Fire Chief Luigi Tramontana in September.

While a copy of the complaint is not available, the Daily Journal is reporting that Williams, an African American, claims a less-qualified white firefighter was promoted over him. The Journal also reports that the complaint alleged:

  • [the chief told Williams a member of his extended family attended Ku Klux Klan meetings.]
  • “On another occasion, when Defendant Tramontana could not find the Department black shoe polish, Defendant Tramontana told Plaintiff, ‘I thought someone stole it and was going to paint their face to look like you”
  • “There was yet another occasion in which Defendant Tramontana, referring to Plaintiff, mockingly stated that his Fire Chief position came with, ‘a black driver.’”
  • [an unidentified white co-worker used the N-word] “in Plaintiff’s presence” [and that a deputy chief was present during the incident]

Williams complained to the city about discriminatory treatment in December 2018, and asked for an investigation, but no investigation was conducted.

The suit was filed in Cumberland County Superior Court under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (N.J.S.A. 10:5-12). Williams is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, costs, and attorney’s fees. 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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