NJ Volunteer Fire Department Accused of Sexual Harassment

A New Jersey volunteer fire department, its fire chief and two other officers are facing sexual harassment allegations in a lawsuit filed by a female volunteer. Priya Gupta filed suit against the Franklin Township Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., its fire chief Raymond Read, Assistant Chief Jan Verkade, Lieutenant Vincent Fortunato, and Franklin Township.

The suit was filed October 15, 2020 in Warren County Superior Court. A copy of the complaint is not available from the court’s website, but additional information about the suit beyond the parties’ names was obtained from the NY Post and 1010WINS.

Gupta contends that Chief Read made numerous sexually inappropriate comments to her beginning when she was only 16. The chief is also accused of making racists comments about her. Gupta is of Indian descent. She claims she reported the harassment to a deputy chief, but her complaint was not taken seriously.

Besides seeking monetary damages, Gupta is seeking court ordered anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and other sensitivity trainings for members of the department. The NY Post quoted her attorney, Peter Valenzano, as saying:

  • “As alleged in the complaint, Defendants operated a firehouse where its disturbed leaders promoted a culture rife with misogyny and bigotry.”
  • “Ms. Gupta was consumed by an inferno of sexual harassment and discrimination — much of which occurred while she was still a minor.”

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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