NJ City Sued For Reverse Discrimination by Firefighter Candidates

Nine prospective firefighters who were offered jobs with the City of Englewood, New Jersey have filed suit claiming the last minute decision to withdraw the job offers constituted breach of contract and reverse discrimination. The candidates were given conditional job offers by the city earlier this year, and completed all of the prerequisites to start the fire academy on April 15.

The city instructed the men to give final notice to their current employers and even required them to attend a full-day orientation on April 8 during which time they were fitted for turnout gear, signed final employment paperwork, and given entry key codes. The day before the academy was scheduled to start, the city manager sent them each an email stating they would not be allowed to attend the fire academy due to the city budget not being passed.

The candidates retained attorney Michael Prigoff, who claims the real reason for the last minute decision to withdraw the job offers was the racial make-up of the members. The North Valley Press quoted Prigoff as telling the city council last week:

  • There’s not a single reason that in good faith you should not honor the contract that you entered into with these men.
  • They’ve given up [jobs], they’ve made life-changing decisions, they’ve incurred substantial damages and there’s no good reason for not appointing them in accordance with the promise that was made.
  • After it appeared my clients were scheduled for appointment because they excelled in the selection protocol that the city adopted, people came before the council and communicated the fact that ‘why are we appointing 12 white boys who don’t live in Englewood?’ and as a result of that, we believe, the former city manager has been suspended and is being terminated.
  • [He] sent these letters on April 11 to my clients.

The nine men who are suing are Michael Cangro, Carlos Canizales, Kenneth P. Corrigan, Michael Kraus, Steven Longa, Thomas Martin, Michael Rawson, Jonathan Reitz, and Sebastian Rollo. The North Valley Press also quoted the candidates as telling the council:

Rollo:

  • All of us received an email from the former city manager that our conditional offers were rescinded due to “budgetary” reasons and “sorry for the inconvenience”.
  • It was more than just an inconvenience.
  • The excuse for our dismissal was far from the truth.

Canizales:

  • The truth is the fire department is severely understaffed and running well below minimum operating levels.
  • The truth is the fire department has had nine retirements since the beginning of the year and has had even more since 2018.
  • The truth is that this is not a minority or residency issue or budget issue, because I’m standing here in front of you. I’m Hispanic, was a resident and my family has a business in town.
  • Our jobs were terminated because of our skin color. How would you feel if this happened to your son or daughter?

Cangro:

  • The truth is that budget appropriation is nothing more than a red herring to not hire us in response to the outrage from some residents and groups such as the Jabari Society and the NAACP.
  • There have been numerous retirements of top pay employees in the fire department just this year and there are more firefighters on their way out which would easily minimize the tax burden to pay for the necessary staffing.

The suit names the city, former City Manager Ed Hynes, and newly appointed Interim City Manager Jewel Thompson-Chin. A copy of the complaint is not available at this time, but will be posted here if/when it is available. 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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