FDNY Firefighter Sues Alleging Race Discrimination and Retaliation

An FDNY firefighter who claims he was racially harassed and physically assaulted at a firehouse celebration, has filed suit in federal court alleging race discrimination and retaliation against the city. Alonzo Baker filed suit today in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Baker claims the incident was not properly addressed by ranking officers, and when he reported the matter to city police, they too found excuses not to process his complaint. The factual allegations are extensive and quoted at length:

  • In 2016, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a firefighter.
  • Plaintiff was an African American priority hire.
  • FDNY members within Plaintiff’s firehouse disliked him because of a rumor that he put in seven EEO complaints during his time in the fire academy, in order to graduate.
  • During one of Plaintiff’s first tours after Probationary Firefighting School in October 2017, two firefighters in his firehouse E-286/L0135 told him that most of the black priority are “bags of shit and only come on the job to take money and jobs away.”
  • On April 2, 2021, Defendant held a customary going away celebration for Captain Richard Blasi, who received a promotion to Chief. The party took place at the firehouse and when Plaintiff arrived, he overheard Firefighter Christopher Goetchius speaking to civilian Bobby Tolley.
  • When Goetchius saw Plaintiff, he made racially motivated remarks such as, “I can’t stand that black motherfucker. I wish he would just leave the house already. Nobody likes his black ass anyway. The house would be so much better without him. Fucking asshole.”
  • Tolley subsequently approached Plaintiff and physically assaulted him while stating, “I heard about you! Get your black ass out of here. No one wants your kind on the job anyway. You’d better get the fuck out of here right now before I fuck you up. Get the fuck out of here.”
  • Tolley had his left forearm on the back of Plaintiff’s neck, as he grabbed his right wrist with his right hand. Plaintiff pleaded for Tolley to release Plaintiff.
  • Firefighter Kerron Kangal came towards Tolley and Plaintiff and pulled Tolley away stating, “Let’s go buddy. You’re done.” Tolley screamed, “But you said it was him! Chris [Goetchis] said it was him!”
  • Plaintiff later discussed the incident with Captain Carl Italiano and was informed that Blasi learned about what transpired with Tolley, but neither captain took any remedial measures to address the racially fueled assault/incident occurred.
  • On April 8, 2021, Firefighter Ross sent Plaintiff a text that, “the incident was totally unacceptable and Bobby was dealt with. It wasn’t anything you did.”
  • On April 21, 2021, Lt. Mayerhoffer told Plaintiff that he did not want anything “bad” to happen to Blasi or Italiano if Plaintiff were to escalate the situation and essentially tried with the intent to deter Plaintiff from taking any action. He threatened Plaintiff that he (Plaintiff) should take his career into consideration before he does anything he may regret. He further threatened Plaintiff that his (Plaintiff’s) career was just beginning and that if he wanted to have a good reputation that he should keep quiet.
  • On May 22, 2021, Plaintiff reported the assault at the 104th precinct. Sargent Tsui interrogated Plaintiff about why he took so long to come forward and Complainant explained that he feared retaliation. Tsui insisted that Plaintiff should have reported the incident to his union delegate prior to coming to the precinct. Tsui then walked away after hearing Plaintiff story and Plaintiff waited two hours only for Officer Bonilla to hand him an incident slip stating that Tsui told her to give Plaintiff the slip. Plaintiff asked for a copy of the incident report but was denied and told to return for it in a few days.
  • On May 23, 2021, Defendant reassigned Plaintiff to Engine 329, the second slowest firehouse in New York City, also creating a significantly further commute for Complainant. Although Plaintiff requested to be transferred in fear of his safety, he did not request this particular assignment.
  • On May 26, 2021, Complainant learned that Tsui did not file and/or report the incident as an assault/hate crime. He filed it as a traffic violation. The Sargent on duty apologized to Complainant and represented that he would file a new report and handed Plaintiff an incident report classified as harassment. Plaintiff expressed his concern regarding the misclassification of the report, but the precinct failed to remedy the error. Plaintiff thereafter went to meet with Don Nguyen about the April 2nd incident and his reassignment.
  • On May 28, 2021, Plaintiff had a meeting at Internal Affairs with Detective Stone and Police Officer Melexenis.
  • On May 29, 2021, Plaintiff reported the assault at the 81st precinct. The Sergeant on duty questioned the validity of the incident. Asking Complainant, “why did it take so long to report… if you’re lying you [Complainant] will be arrested.”
  • On June 7, 2021, Complainant told Italiano his version of the events and then went downtown and spoke with the head of BITS.
  • On December 13, 2021, Firefighter Restrepo made a series of discriminatory retaliatory comments towards Plaintiff because of him being an African American priority hire and him filing a previous EEO complaint. Restrepo admitted that Plaintiff is being targeted and that no one wants to be around Plaintiff because of his African American priority status hiring and because of the EEO complaint Plaintiff filed. Restrepo went on to state that Plaintiff would continue facing retaliation and no matter which firehouse he transfers to, everyone will know that he put in an EEO complaint. Restrepo told Plaintiff that if he continues cleaning the kitchen, bunk rooms, and mop the floors, that it may be easier for him. These are demeaning tasks that are not within the purview of Plaintiff’s job as a firefighter.
  • Between December 13 and 15, 2021, FDNY members at Plaintiff’s firehouse E331/L137 affixed a CD-30 transfer form to his locker in retaliation for being an African American priority hire and filing an EEO complaint. A CD-30 transfer form is an indication from the other members that they want Plaintiff to transfer firehouses. Plaintiff complained about this incident to Lieutenant Mirth and Don Nguyen, with whom he filed a formal complaint.
  • To date, Plaintiff continues to await the results of the investigation into the Restrepo and CD-30 incident.
  • On December 16, 2021, Captain Scialpi of E331/L137 (who was on vacation at the time of the incident), called Plaintiff and apologized for the discriminatory and retaliatory actions on behalf of the firehouse.
  • Based on the foregoing, Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of his race. During a work-related event, Plaintiff was assaulted and called racially derogatory names. Plaintiff reported this incident, as it was also witnessed, to several authoritative figures such as: Captain Italiano, Captain Blasi, Lieutenant Mayerhoffer, Don Ngyen, and BITS. Mayerhoffer warned Plaintiff that if he escalated/complained further that it would ruin his career. Plaintiff also filed a report with the NYPD. Defendant failed to initiate any meaningful investigation into the matter and instead relocated Plaintiff to a firehouse that was the second slowest one in New York City and a significantly further commute for the Plaintiff.

The suit alleges discrimination and retaliation under federal, state and local law. Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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