Rochester firefighter is suing fire department and city for a ‘discriminatory work environment’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Jerrod Jones, the firefighter who said his captain took him to a party last year that mocked Juneteenth, is suing the City of Rochester and the Rochester Fire Department.

The lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleges a “racially hostile, discriminatory work environment” within the department. The suit lists alleged examples of racist comments and actions that Jones, a 15-year veteran of RFD, has observed.

Jones said one firefighter mocked Black victims of police brutality including Trayvon Martin, with the firefighter “repeatedly referring to Martin as a thug and saying ‘he got what he deserved.'” Jones said many White firefighters were callous about Martin’s death, asserting that hoodies represented the wardrobe of criminals.

He also said a fire lieutenant with openly racist views tossed the helmet of a Black captain out the window in frustration that a Black firefighter had been promoted before him.

“This careless action put the Captain’s life in serious danger and instilled a sense of fear and intimidation among all Black RFD firefighters,” said the lawsuit. “These occurrences were widely recognized within the RFD and contributed to creating a rift between Black and minority firefighters and their White colleagues, leaving Plaintiff and others intimidated, embarrassed, and demoralized.”

The lawsuit also says firefighters practiced putting a ventilation hole, used to expel smoke, in the roof of a Black neighborhood to “prepare” for responding to White neighborhoods. News10NBC reached out to the city for a comment on the lawsuit. The city said it cannot comment on active litigation.

The lawsuit also mentions the party at the East Avenue home of Nicholas and Mary Nicosia. Jones spoke about the party at a press conference last August.

He said the party used old stereotypes, like buckets of fried chicken from KFC and the alcoholic drink Hennessy, to make fun of Juneteenth, a holiday to commemorate liberation from slavery. He also said the party made fun of local elected officials including someone impersonating County Legislator Rachel Barnhart as a stripper.

A city report concluded that RFD Captain Jeffrey Krywy used an “extreme lack of judgment” by directing Jones to attend the party. It said Krywy shouldn’t have attended a personal party while on duty and should have left when he saw that the theme of the party was encouraging racial stereotypes. The report determined that the captain should be fired from his job.

The Nicosia couple held their own press conference later that month. They said the party didn’t mock Juneteeth and that many of Jones’ claims were false.