A former firefighter has filed a federal lawsuit against the FDNY claiming he was subjected to extreme hazing, bullying, and discrimination because his coworkers thought he was gay.
After joining the FDNY in 2016, 24-year-old Michael Troina alleges in the lawsuit that he “was singled out time and time again on account of his race and national origin as a Hispanic American male, as well as perceived homosexuality.” Troina was taunted with homophobic slurs by other firefighters in his unit, who called him a “closet homo” and a “bitch.”
In order to “prove” his heterosexuality, colleagues at Ladder 1/Engine 7 in Tribeca took Troina to a strip club and pressured him into having sex with an erotic dancer. When he couldn’t go through with it, they called him a “faggot.”
“At first I sloughed it off as ‘I’m the new guy,’” Troina told the New York Post. “As it kept going on, it got worse.”
The allegations made in the lawsuit, which was filed on Saturday, are as myriad as they are grievous. Among other things, members of his unit reportedly covered his car in peanut butter, nails, and toilet paper; put up photos around the firehouse depicting Troina as a baby; forced him to eat orange juice with a fork; and claimed that being Latino made Troina predisposed to laziness.
The former trainee was informed “he could not do the job like the other white firefighters,” Troina says in the suit.
But one of the most damning claims made in court filings is that superiors in the FDNY knew about the severe harassment and failed to intervene. A supervisor in the department told Troina the hazing was “in good fun” and advised him to “not take it too hard.”
Firefighters in his unit “further threatened with physical violence if he dared to report any incident of battery, harassment or discrimination to the FDNY’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Only shitbag guys with no class go to EEO,” the Post reports colleagues told him.
When a lieutenant in the station escalated Troina’s complaints, he was contacted by EEO officials on Dec. 7. By Dec. 21, the rookie was terminated from his position, for what the FDNY would claim was a “failed evaluation.”
This is just one of several reports indicating the FDNY’s struggles to be inclusive even as the 89 percent white, 99 percent male department has made a push toward diversity in recent years. Fourteen years after it announced a plan to further “gay sensitivity,” the FDNY now boasts a lesbian chaplain. Brooke Guinan, its first openly trans firefighter, was grand marshal of the New York Pride Parade in 2017.
But former New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen claimed in February that FDNY remains mired in a “culture of incivility.”
“It is often aimed at anyone with a darker skin, although gay-bashing, anti-Semitism, and sexism get air time, too,” he said in a speech delivered at Stamford, Conn.’s Ferguson Library.
Last year Gordon Springs filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court alleging he was sexually assaulted by other firefighters his first day on the job. After joining Ladder 35/Engine 40 in May 2015, the 27-year-old was taken along with three other rookies to a local gym to be sexually humiliated. While he did chest press exercises, a colleague “moved his penis and testicles very close” to Springs’ face.
“I know you liked my balls in your mouth,” the perpetrator later told him, as the suit claims.
What makes Springs’ case all the more harrowing is how much it matches Troina’s account. When he complained to EEO, the probationary firefighter’s uniform was desecrated by his colleagues.
Springs would be transferred twicebut the harassment didn’t stop.
“I want everyone to know this is not an indictment against the brave men and women of the FDNY, who put their lives on the line every day,” claimed attorney Paul Liggieri when the case was filed last year. “This is an indictment against the negligence of the FDNY and against a few bad apples of the FDNY who committed these egregious, unlawful acts.”
To date, at least four firefighters have come forward to allege sexual abuse, persecution, and discrimination at New York City stations, as the Post reports.
Photo via Tim Clayton/Getty Images