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A Black firefighter in upstate New York has filed a lawsuit accusing his employer, the Rochester Fire Department, of subjecting him to ongoing racial harassment and fostering a hostile work environment.
The plaintiff, Jerrod Jones, joined the department in 2008 and claims that his former supervisor, Jeffrey Krywy, encouraged him to attend a racially insensitive party that took place last year.
According to Jones’ legal complaint, the harassment commenced subsequent to a press conference held in August of the preceding year, during which he and his attorney publicly disclosed the offensive nature of the party.
Allegedly, the event mocked Juneteenth and showcased a display featuring a cutout of Donald Trump alongside photographs of local Democratic politicians with their heads impaled on stakes.
Moreover, Jones contends that the party included racially offensive elements such as bottles of Hennesy Cognac, buckets of fried chicken and Juneteenth-themed party favors.
Jones expressed his emotional distress in an interview with NBC News, stating, “When somebody makes fun of my heritage … when somebody doesn’t see how something like that can be hurtful, it became more than I could bear.” He disclosed that he only remained at the party for a brief duration before he was overwhelmed with feelings of shock and anger.
Jones claimed that Krywy explicitly prohibited him from capturing any photographs while he was at the party.
In response to his state of distress, Jones took a medical leave of absence from work to address his emotional well-being and has not returned since.
The hosts of the party, Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia and Nicholas Nicosia, have refrained from providing any comment on the lawsuit.
Their legal representative previously characterized the gathering as a “political party” and fervently denied the allegations of racism. However, Znidarsic-Nicosia admitted to embodying a false online persona to make racist remarks on Twitter, though she maintained that she does not harbor racist beliefs.
Meanwhile, Krywy retired from the fire department prior to facing potential termination, following an internal investigation conducted by the city. NBC News revealed that Krywy declined to comment regarding his retirement and the lawsuit.
The recently filed lawsuit, seeking $5 million in damages, asserts that the Rochester Fire Department has cultivated a culture of racial hostility and promoted a discriminatory work environment.
Jones argues that the offensive party serves as a glaring example of a more pervasive issue characterized by cultural insensitivity and discrimination, which Black firefighters within the department have endured for an extensive period.
Since publicly addressing the incident, Jones and the mother of his child, have been subjected to persistent harassment and stalking, both in proximity to their residences and in public spaces.
Jones recounted multiple instances of attempted break-ins at his home, financial setbacks due to lost wages, continuous emotional distress, and unrelenting harassment. He also revealed that he has been followed in his car multiple times and has witnessed cars stakeout his former partner’s home while recording videos and taking pictures.
These distressing actions are believed to be directly linked to Jones’ decision to speak out about the racially offensive party.
Despite his expressed desire to continue working, NBC News revealed that Jones no longer feels safe within the department, as two of his coworkers have cautioned him not to return.
Jones conveyed his profound disappointment at the irreparable damage to his professional trajectory in an interview with NBC News, stating, “My career is ruined. I will never feel comfortable working in this department again.”
The lawsuit additionally underscores the detrimental impact on Jones’ professional reputation, financial stability, and aspirations for career advancement within the department.