News Media Catches Up With FDNY EMS Officer’s Discrimination Suit

Several EMS and New York news sources reported today that a female EMS lieutenant with FDNY has filed a race discrimination suit against the city. Lt. Valarie Brancato actually filed the suit on June 24, 2011. What occurred recently (September 30th to be exact) was that the city of New York answered her complaint by denying all of her allegations and asserting 12 separate defenses.

The timing of the recent news interest in this four month old story is curious. It coincides with considerable media attention on the FDNY race discrimination case being handled by Judge Nicholas Garaufis. Judge Garaufis has ordered FDNY to hire 3 minorities for every 5 new hires, and awarded millions of dollars in reparations to past minority applicants.

Lt. Brancato’s suit consists of 14 counts, including allegations of Federal and state race discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, and disability discrimination under state law. Some of her allegations sound unfortunately all too familiar, in particular – fellow students, firefighters and EMS personnel engaging in hazing and harassment in the presence of instructors and officers, who did nothing to stop or punish the behavior.

Consider the following allegation from the complaint:

“15. While Plaintiff was in paramedic school she was subjected to harassment based upon her race by white male classmates, including but not limited to: being asked if she would go to their homes to clean their windows; being subjected to gestures that made fun of the size of the lips of African Americans; being subjected to a fellow classmate wearing a gorilla mask in class and saying that it was what African Americans looked like; being subjected to two fellow classmates wearing white hoods with cutouts for their eyes and nose.

16. The instructor was aware of the comments and treatment of Plaintiff and did nothing to stop it or alleviate it.”

That issue is a pet peeve of mine. Many officers believe that if the victim of pranks and hazing (whether friendly or mean spirited) does not complain, they do not have to intervene. WRONG! Observing such conduct and doing nothing is condoning the conduct!

Lt. Brancato’s biggest problem may be the 300 day rule for filing discrimination claims under Federal law. Allegations of discrimination must be filed within 300 days of their occurrence. Some of her allegations go back to 1986, when she was first hired. However, when discrimination is so pervasive that it constitutes “a continuous pattern and practice” a court may consider acts that occurred outside the 300 days under the continuing violation doctrine.

Here is a copy of the complaint.  Brancato Complaint

Here is a copy of the FDNY’s answer. Brancato Answer

Here is a news story about the case.

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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