NY Firefighter Sues City and Union for Discrimination

A Peekskill, New York firefighter of Middle-Eastern ancestry has filed suit against the city, the firefighters’ union, and the fire chief alleging race and ethnicity discrimination. Robert Pappas claims he was passed over three times for promotion to lieutenant, and when he complained he was retaliated against by being denied injured-on-duty status for a work-related injury.

The suit was filed in US District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging race, ethnicity, national origin, color, and ancestry discrimination in violation of 42 USC §1981 and §1983; retaliation under §1981 and §1983; and state law discrimination and retaliation under New York’s Human Rights law. No claim was made under Title VII.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • Plaintiff Robert Pappas, a professional firefighter of Middle Eastern ethnicity and a 19-year veteran of the Peekskill Fire Department with an exemplary performance record, brings these racial discrimination claims against (1) the City of Peekskill, (2) the Fire Department of the City of Peekskill, (3) the Paid Fireman’s Association of Peekskill, NY Inc. Local 2343 IAFF, AFL-CIO, and (4) Fire Chief James E Seymour, IV for their discriminatory treatment of him based upon his race, ethnicity, national origin, color and ancestry.
  • Specifically, Defendants together denied Firefighter Pappas promotion to a Lieutenant position on three separate occasions despite him having the most seniority and the highest-ranking score on the civil service promoting exam.
  • In each instance, Firefighter Pappas was passed over in favor of objectively less qualified non-Middle Eastern candidates, all of whom are White, Irish- American individuals whose skin complexions are lighter than that of Plaintiff.
  • These denials of promotion are part of an ongoing course of discriminatory conduct which has also included denying Plaintiff performance-based recognition and awards while according such recognition and awards to White non-Middle Eastern employees whose performance was equal or inferior to his; denying Plaintiff’s requests to serve on various workplace committees while awarding such positions to White non-Middle Eastern employees with equal or less experience than him; regularly assigning to Plaintiff the least desirable tasks despite his seniority while rarely if ever assigning such tasks to White non-Middle Eastern employees with less seniority; and denying Plaintiff’s requests for access to information including but not limited to a copy of the collective bargaining agreement while giving such information to White non-Middle Eastern employees.
  • When Plaintiff served on the City of Peekskill a formal, written complaint about this discrimination, the City of Peekskill, the Peekskill Fire Department, and Fire Chief James Seymour IV retaliated against him by denying his request for benefits related to a workplace injury despite overwhelming evidence, including the report of the City’s own medical expert, that Plaintiff’s injury was caused by work-related activities and that he otherwise qualified for the benefits.
  • The Paid Fireman’s Association of Peekskill also retaliated against Plaintiff by failing to respond to numerous requests for information and assistance related to his contractual rights.
  • To remedy these legal violations, Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the New York State Human Rights Law, NY Exec. Law § 290 et seq.

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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