Two FDNY Firefighters Facing Discipline for Talking to the Media

Two FDNY firefighters are in trouble for talking to the media in two unrelated high profile cases.

Firefighter Elizabeth Osgood claims she was passed over for promotion to lieutenant in retaliation for criticizing Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. She and her union allege that the city misused its subpoena power to obtain her cellphone records and then refused to promote her merely because she spoke her mind.

The city is claiming that Osgood’s phone records were subpoenaed as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the inappropriate release of confidential medical information about a female recruit. Information about the recruit, Wendy Tapia, was released to a New York Post reporter last fall.

Tapia made headlines when she somehow managed to graduate from the FDNY’s training academy despite the fact that she was unable to pass the department’s fitness requirements. FDNY spokespersons have confirmed that their ongoing investigation has centered on the release of “confidential medical and personnel information, a serious and potentially unlawful act for which severe penalties are warranted.”

Investigators used subpoenas to try to identify the firefighters who allegedly released information to the Post. According to Uniformed Firefighters Association President Stephen Cassidy, the FDNY’s actions in subpoenaing the phone records was “disgraceful… It’s reminiscent of the NSA scandal, and it has a chilling effect on all New York City firefighters and the media covering the story.”

Osgood was quoted as saying:  “It’s unbelievable, and the fact that they’re using their power in such a way to do this to me is an amazing, amazing breach of power.” Here is more on the Osgood case.

The second case involves Firefighter Anthony Harper, who was in the news a while back over his claim that he had been ostracized from his co-workers because he refused to join in the communal meals at the firehouse. He was interviewed by the NY Post about his allegations, and was photographed wearing an FDNY uniform shirt while holding his daughter.

Harper later filed discrimination claims against co-workers who referred to him as a “sand ­n—-r’’ after they learned he changed his name from Othaman Muhammad and is Muslim.

The disciplinary charges accuse him of “giving an interview to the New York Post and allowing himself to be photographed wearing the Fire Department dress shirt and holding his daughter without having received written approval of the Fire commissioner and without communicating to his audience that his statements to the reporter were not made in his official capacity.”

The charges along with Harper’s discrimination claims appeared to have been settled last month. However, according to Harper’s lawyer, Peter Gleason (retired FDNY himself) the city refused to honor its agreement. According to Gleason “We thought we had this settled, but the department has continued to show bad faith.” Harper and Gleason are now making plans to move forward with a discrimination suit. They also demanded a trial on the disciplinary charges.

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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