NY Firefighter Sues for Race Discrimination

A volunteer firefighter in New York is suing his former fire department in federal court alleging race discrimination. Sean Joshua filed suit against the Valley Stream Fire Department alleging race discrimination under state and federal law.

Joshua, who identified himself in the complaint as African American, claims that members and officers subjected him to racist comments and hostile treatment throughout his tenure with the department. He further claims ranking officers fabricated allegations of him being the subject of vehicular homicide charges to dissuade him from rejoining.

According to the complaint:

  • Shortly after becoming sworn in Plaintiff was exposed to continuous racist comments at the firehouse that went unpunished.
  • In or around November 2015, Christopher Madrid Suerez, a Hispanic volunteer, displayed pictures of females to the individuals present at the firehouse.
  • While Madrid was presenting the pictures, another volunteer Tony Manta, a Caucasian male, commented, “They’re not attractive they are black”.
  • While on probation with the Fire Department, Plaintiff was employed part time at the Valley Stream State Park, was enrolled full time in Nassau County Community College’s Criminal Justice Program, and volunteered at the Fire Department at night.
  • Notwithstanding Plaintiffs hectic schedule, Plaintiff remained dedicated to his responsibilities as a volunteer at the Fire Department and in or around November 2015, he passed the Essentials Exam at the Bethpage Fire School. In order to pass the exam, Plaintiff was required to attend classes Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM.
  • In or around November 2015, Plaintiff learned that the Fire Department was contemplating suspending volunteers on probation for bad attendance.
  • Despite Plaintiffs attendance challenges, he remained committed to passing the “truck exam”.
  • In or around December 2015, Plaintiff began to feel uncomfortable while at the firehouse as it became a more escalating racist environment.
  • Plaintiff began to endure increasing racial slurs not only in front of his fellow peers but in front of the higher ups at the Fire Department as well. For example, Jack Skellington, a Caucasian male volunteer, made several harsh racist comments to Plaintiff in front of numerous volunteers including Tony Manta, and higher-ranking individuals such as Patrick Scanlon, that severely upset Plaintiff.
  • Tony Manta’s comments included “why do black people have no rights?” “Because Beyonce said to the left to the left,” and; “How do you keep a black person out of your yard?” “You hang one in the front yard”.
  • Plaintiff was not only distressed about these comments but shocked that the highest ranking individual present did not punish Skellington but laughed along with him.
  • In or around December 2015, Plaintiff asked the Lieutenant of Engine Company 1, Scanlon, for training in preparation for the truck exam.
  • Scanlon declined to train Plaintiff and advised to tell him to ask someone else.
  • This shocked Plaintiff as Scanlon had previously offered to help other similarity situated, non-African American, volunteers with training in preparation for this specific exam including but not limited to Tony Manta, a Caucasian male, who had been volunteering around the same time as Plaintiff.
  • In or around January 2016, several volunteers on probation stopped going to events and training.
  • Scanlon expressed his anger regarding poor attendance from trainees on probation through a group message. Plaintiff expressed to Scanlon that his grandparents were sick and his vigorous schedule made it extremely difficult, yet he still wanted to be involved.
  • In or around February 20i6, Plaintiff took the truck exam, that Scanlon refused to train him for.
  • Scanlon alleged Plaintiff underperformed, especially on the hoses and as a result, Plaintiff failed said exam. At the time, Scanlon said to Plaintiff “maybe this is not for you.”
  • Plaintiff felt pressure by Scanlon and Rob Martin Sr, a veteran firefighter who had also been present during his exam, as they kept alluding to Plaintiffs resignation.
  • Despite insinuating that Plaintiff may not be good enough to accomplish his duties as a volunteer for the Fire Department, Scanlon told Plaintiff to wait to speak to the Captain of Engine 341 , Joey Fernandez Sr (hereinafter “Fernandez”).
  • At the time, Plaintiff was extremely upset as he felt he was being pushed out of the Fire Department.
  • Feeling upset and defeated by Scanlon’s comment. Plaintiff did not wait for Fernandez, but instead went home to get his pager and other equipment in anticipation of resigning.
  • Shortly after, Plaintiff returned to the Fire Department, wherein Fernandez was not present, only Scanlon. Plaintiff turned in his pager and resigned.
  • The next day, Fernandez called Plaintiff to question him as to what happened during the exam.
  • Plaintiff explained that Scanlon told him that he failed on the hose portion of the exam.
  • Fernandez suggested that Plaintiff return to the firehouse to go over what he did wrong.
  • Upon information and belief, Fernandez was in the process of stepping down as Captain and Scanlon was going to be taking his position.
  • Plaintiff felt that with Scanlon as Captain, he would have no one on his side.
  • Plaintiff and Fernandez had a close relationship as Fernandez hired Plaintiff as a part time security guard at a bar in Manhattan in or around December 2015.
  • However, after Plaintiff resigned from the Fire Department, Fernandez texted him stating that the dates offered to him for part time employment were no longer available.
  • In or around August 2016 Scanlon became Captain of Engine Company 341.
  • In or around October 2016, Plaintiff tried to rejoin the Fire Department.
  • On or around October 4, 2016, Plaintiff sent now Captain Scanlon a message stating that he was ready to come back to the Fire Department and was ready to give 150 percent. This message went unanswered.
  • On or around October 27, 2016, Plaintiff sent a similar text message to the acting Lieutenant, John Franco (hereinafter ” Franco”), stating that he was ready to return to the Department.
  • This message also went unanswered.
  • Plaintiff sent two more text messages to Scanlon on November 29, 2016 and January 21, 2017, hoping to get a response so that he could return to the Fire Department.
  • All of Plaintiffs messages went unanswered.
  • On or around February 2, 2017, at appointed 7:00 PM, Plaintiff decided to go to the Department headquarters to see if he could speak with someone about rejoining as all his messages went unreturned. Plaintiff rang the doorbell of the fire house and was met by Tony Manta.
  • After approximately five minutes of small talk with Tony Manta, Scanlon entered the room and greeted Plaintiff. Scanlon then opened the officer’s door and Franco came out and briefly greeted Plaintiff.
  • Scanlon proceeded to tell Plaintiff that detectives came to question Franco about Plaintiff and his involvement in a vehicular homicide that Franco and Scanlon both provided Plaintiffs entire file to the detective.
  • Plaintiff took this news very seriously as Scanlon is a veteran police officer.
  • Plaintiff still in disbelief as to what both Scanlon and Franco had told him, asked for all the information and the name of the detectives but was denied any information. Scanlon and Franco stated they could not give him any information and refused to provide the precinct where these allegations originated.
  • Scanlon went on to interrogate Plaintiff all the while denying him any specific information.
  • Scanlon proceeded to explain that he was uncomfortable with Plaintiff and it was strange to him that detectives would come to the Fire Department to inquire about a volunteer.
  • On or around February 7, 2017, Plaintiff call Nassau County Police Headquarters to discuss the vehicular homicide investigation Scanlon had described.
  • Plaintiff then asked for Kevin Smith, a former Professor of his at Nassau Community College, who was also a high-ranking individual in the Nassau County Police Department.
  • Smith asked Plaintiff for all of his personal information, including social security number, to check to see if there is an open investigation.
  • Smith called Plaintiff back and told him no investigation was underway and his name came back completely clear.
  • Plaintiff was extremely upset as he believed Scanlon had made the entire vehicular homicide investigation up to dissuade him from rejoining the Fire Department.

The suit lists only the fire department as a defendant. Here is a copy of the complaint: JOSHUA v VALLEY STREAM FD

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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