Former Marine Claims FDNY Colleagues Mocked His Military Service and PTSD

A former Marine captain who was hired in 2019 by FDNY has filed suit claiming that he was hazed during his initial assignment and retaliated against when he complained. Charles Hughes filed suit last month in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York alleging an assortment of federal and state law discrimination claims.

Hughes, whose service included a tour in Afghanistan, retired from the Marines in 2014.  with PTSD. He completed the FDNY academy in September, 2019 and was assigned to Ladder 151. As explained in the complaint:

  • On or about September 24, 2019, upon first reporting with four other probationary firefighters to his firehouse, Ladder 151, firefighters there dumped a bucket of water on Plaintiff from a window above the door.
  • When the door was opened to let Plaintiff and the other probationary firefighters in, a bag of flour was thrown on Plaintiff.
  • When the probationary firefighters were directed to go upstairs under the pretense of meeting their Lieutenant supervisor, they were greeted by a firefighter sitting behind a desk. When that firefighter stood up, he revealed that he was naked from the waist down except for a thong that left his testicles exposed.
  • During that incident, several firefighters standing behind the probationary firefighters laughed while recording a video of the incident.

Thereafter, Hughes claims that senior firefighters began mocking his military service and his PTSD:

  • During his first month working the firehouse, Plaintiff was repeatedly insulted and demeaned by several firefighters, particularly Raymond Hassett.
  • On January 25, 2020, at an event hosted by Plaintiff’s firehouse, Plaintiff decried the lack of attention given to deaths of military service members.
  • An infuriated Hassett responded by degrading Plaintiff and demeaning his military service.
  • Hassett said that Plaintiff had done nothing in the military, had been a paper pusher, and no one cares about military service members.
  • Hassett’s comments were also joined by Miles Van Dina, another firefighter, who told Plaintiff, “no one gives a shit about your military service dude.”
  • Plaintiff repeatedly asked Hassett to stop his harassment and explained that he suffered from PTSD.
  • Hassett was unrelenting and continued to make demeaning statements to Plaintiff.
  • Hassett’s abuse escalated to physical threats toward Plaintiff.
  • Several firefighters witnessed Hassett’s physical aggression and insults regarding Plaintiff’s military service.
  • On or about February 1, 2020, Plaintiff received a telephone call from another firefighter informing him that Hassett had defaced Plaintiff’s photograph at the firehouse with comments mocking Plaintiff’s disability, PTSD.
  • When Plaintiff arrived at the firehouse that evening, he saw his defaced photograph along with newspaper clippings ridiculing his
  • PTSD, including, among others, clippings that stated “off the wall,” “evidence of a problem” and “more like ‘operation cuckoo.’”
  • Plaintiff removed the defaced photograph and newspaper clippings after his arrival at the firehouse.
  • When Plaintiff removed the photograph, Terry Prahlad, a more senior firefighter, was present.
  • Prahlah later verbally attacked Plaintiff in the presence of several other firefighters for removing the picture and told him that as mere “probie” he was not to touch his picture.
  • Upon information and belief, “probie” is a pejorative term for probationary firefighters.
  • Plaintiff explained to Prahlah the harmful effects that the defaced photograph and the harassment based on his disability had on him.
  • Praklah responded, “I don’t care. You don’t touch your picture and, if you have a problem with it, you will deal with the repercussions.”
  • Plaintiff immediately reported the incident to his supervisor at the firehouse, Lieutenant Costa, who responded, “Don’t show these guys it upsets you. They will do it more if they know you are upset.”
  • Plaintiff then reported what had occurred to the senior firefighter in Ladder 151, Anthony Quinones.
  • Quinones assured Plaintiff that it would never happen again and spoke with Prahlad and other firefighters telling them that the incident should not be repeated.
  • Prahlad told Plaintiff that he would have a bad reputation in the firehouse that would follow him throughout his career, thereby making his career difficult for him.

The harassment continued prompting Hughes to file a formal equal employment complaint with FDNY. He claims the stress caused him to become increasingly depressed requiring greater medications to treat his PTSD.

The suit alleges a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. The city and FDNY are the only ones named as defendants. Here is a copy of the complaint.

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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