Rochester NY Firefighter Sues Over Racist Party

A Rochester firefighter who was required to attend a racist party while on duty in 2022, has filed suit alleging race discrimination. Jerrod Jones, a 14-year veteran, filed suit in US District Court for the Western District of New York naming the city and his captain as defendants.

Jones attended the July 7, 2022 party at the direction of his captain, who was later suspended and ended up resigning. The event was held at the home of a prominent dentist, and reportedly featured a Donald Trump cutout while ridiculing Juneteenth and Black Americans. Jones is Black.

According to the complaint, Jones’ attendance at the party was one of many race-based indignities he was forced to endure during his tenure with Rochester. The complaint outlines many of them. However, the party-incident was measurably worse for Jones, leading to severe anxiety and ultimately PTSD.

The complaint describes Jones’ experience at the party as follows:

  • Plaintiff experienced immediate unease upon arriving at the location.
  • His discomfort intensified as he proceeded up the driveway and saw a sizable cut-out of former President Donald Trump, a figure known for race-baiting and divisiveness.
  • When he reached the end of the driveway and looked at the backyard, Plaintiff observed two large Juneteenth “celebration” flags adorning the lawn. Juneteenth was weeks before the party.
  • He also saw buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken displayed prominently, the use of the racist trope to ridicule Black Americans.
  • Pictures of local democratic politicians, including members of the Rochester Police Accountability Board and Councilman Mitch Gruber, were displayed on stakes across the yard and the backyard. They literally had Democrats’ heads on stakes.
  • At the party, [an impersonator] mockingly performed burlesque to a cheering crowd dressed Democratic County Legislator Rachel Barnhart, an outspoken participant in the Black Lives Matter Protests of 2020.
  • After finishing her performance, the Barnhart impersonator handed out bags of party favors to the crowd.
  • Despite Plaintiff’s effort to remain on the outskirts of the party, a highly intoxicated guest approached Plaintiff and told him that he should not be offended, and that he should not take the party seriously because they were just “having fun.”
  • She appeared unaware of that a group of wealthy, White individuals “having fun” by mocking a sacred day that Black Americans fought for decades to have recognized as a federal holiday, is atrocious and hateful.
  • She did not say anything similar to White attendees.
  • She also told Plaintiff that they were all Trump supporters, and that Joe Biden was destroying the country, confirming that the party was a political event and the RFD’s presence there was prohibited.

Last August, local media outlets in Rochester reported that Jones filed suit in state court over the identical issues. However, the document they mention appears to actually be a notice of claim, and not a complaint. See here for more on the August 2022 coverage.

The suit alleges:

  • Discrimination and hostile work environment under 42 USC § 1981
  • Discrimination and hostile work environment under 42 USC § 1983
  • Violation of the N.Y. State Human Rights Law

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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