A Black firefighter has filed a federal lawsuit against the New York City Fire Department accusing it of allowing him to be racially discriminated against and sexually assaulted.
The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing 27-year-old Gordon Springs’ case, which details several incidents the FDNY has blamed on a “culture in the firehouse” enacted upon probationary firefighters like Springs.
Springs seeks unspecified damages for the incidents, the first of which happened on May 4, 2015, before his Fire Academy graduation, according to the filing obtained by the New York Post. Springs and three other rookie firefighters visited the Engine 40/Ladder 35 firehouse in Manhattan and were taken to a gym. Four firefighters stood naked in front of them, including two named in the lawsuit, defendants Charles Swift and Pedro Aristy. Springs couldn’t leave the gym since the doors were “forcibly held shut” by other firefighters. Instead, the suit said, Aristy commanded Springs to lie down on a bench before sticking his genitals in the rookie’s face and putting them on his forehead.
The court documents state Springs also continued to be targeted because of his race. Aristy took aim at the firefighter over a federal ruling that ordered the FDNY to diversify its workforce.
“I don’t like you. … Blacks getting on the job this way,” Aristy allegedly told Springs. “You don’t have good work ethic.
“I could punch you in the face and there’s nothing you can do about it,” the suit alleges Aristy said to Springs. “If you called [the FDNY’s Equal Employment Opportunity office], everyone in the firehouse would keep their mouth shut and EEO wouldn’t find anything. Then, after everyone realized you called EEO, the real fun would begin.”
The hazing continued in June 2015 when firefighters forced Springs to climb a pole as they threw water and breadcrumbs on him. He fell and hurt his back in the process. In February 2016, Spring’s uniform was slashed and when he reported it, he was ordered to complete an additional 22 days of retraining. The FDNY transferred Springs twice, but his history of reporting harassment followed him to his new firehouses.
Engine 40/Ladder 35 has been the center of other hazing cases. The Post reported in October that two officers and five firefighters were punished for hazing a Black firefighter. The next month, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found “reasonable cause” for Springs to have been the victim of racial discrimination and sexual assault.
However, an anonymous FDNY officer dismissed the finding. “There’s a culture in the firehouse when you’re a new guy,” he said. “Somebody’s feelings get hurt and all of a sudden, it’s hazing. It’s bulls—.”
Spring’s attorney, Paul Liggieri, disagreed.
“The department can style this case as a hazing incident,” he said. “But what happened to my client … was a sexual assault.”