A female former firefighter with the Schenectady Fire Department filed a sex discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation against the City of Schenectady on December 26, 2014.
The firefighter, Jennifer Costa, claims that she was routinely passed over for promotion to Lieutenant in favor of less qualified and less senior male candidates.
Costa alleges that superior officers in the Schenectady Fire Department participated in sexual harassment and intimidation against her. She claims that at least two other Schenectady female firefighters have been subjected to “extreme sexual harassment” and that the City of Schenectady has permitted a culture of discrimination, harassment and intimidation to exist within the Fire Department for many years.
According to Costa, two death threats were made against her by her male firefighter coworkers.
The following are some of the allegations that Costa made in her sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation lawsuit complaint:
- Plaintiff Jennifer Costa has been employed by the City as a firefighter and paramedic in the Schenectady Fire Department (hereinafter the “Fire Department”) since March 2001.
- Plaintiff has had a positive performance history in connection with her duties as a firefighter and paramedic and, at all times relevant, was qualified and able to perform the functions of her position and the position of Lieutenant.
- In addition to her exemplary performance history as a firefighter, Plaintiff has significant teaching and education experience including acting as an instructor at the New York State Academy of Fire Science.
- Plaintiff has not worked as a firefighter since February 2, 2014 when she was placed on “Chief’s leave” (an informal leave of absence) following an incident wherein a drawing of a face with a bullet in its head was placed in her boot at the fire station.
- As set forth in detail herein, the incident of February 2, 2014 was the culmination of many years of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation perpetrated against Plaintiff by the City.
- During Plaintiff’s 14-year tenure with Defendant, upon information and belief, Defendant employed a maximum of four (4) female firefighters. At the time of Plaintiff’s departure from employment, she was one of two (2) female firefighters.
- During Plaintiff’s 14-year tenure with Defendant, Defendant promoted one (1) female firefighter to the position of Lieutenant. Upon information and belief, this is the only woman to be promoted to the position of Lieutenant in the history of the Fire Department.
- During Plaintiff’s 14-year tenure with Defendant, the only individuals who were promoted to the position of Lieutenant from the same Civil Service list as Plaintiff were men.
- Throughout her tenure with the City, Plaintiff was consistently passed over for promotion to Lieutenant in favor of less qualified male firefighters with lower seniority; lower scores on the civil service exam; a history of disciplinary issues; and less teaching and education experience as compared to Plaintiff. Plaintiff has never been offered a promotion to the position of Lieutenant.
- The City never promoted Plaintiff to the position of Lieutenant because she is a woman and the City has a pattern, policy and practice of favoring male firefighters over female firefighters for promotions.
- In addition to its refusal to promote women including Plaintiff, the Fire Department’s disdain of female firefighters is illustrated by its lack of preparation for or acknowledgement of the presence of women in the workplace.
- The Fire Department has no sexual harassment policies, procedures, manuals or training. The Fire Department has no formal policies or procedures for complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment.
- In her 14-year tenure at the Fire Department, Plaintiff does not recall attending sexual harassment or discrimination training nor does she recall any male firefighters being required to attend such training.
- The Fire Department does not have separate bunk room, shower or restroom facilities for female firefighters.
- From the outset of her employment with the City, Plaintiff has been the victim of sexual harassment, sexually charged comments and threats. From the outset of her employment with the City, Plaintiff has had a superior by the name of Lieutenant Dan Schettine. Throughout Plaintiff’s employment with the City, Lt. Schettine was routinely the highest ranking official in the station with Plaintiff and the individual senior to Plaintiff on the chain of command.
- Lt. Dan Schettine subjected Plaintiff to explicit sexual comments and harassment for many years including through the end of 2013.
- It was common knowledge at the Fire Department that Lt. Schettine was romantically interested in Plaintiff when she started her employment and that, when he was rebuffed, he began a campaign of harassment that lasted for the entirety of Plaintiff’s career.
- Lt. Schettine made routine comments to Plaintiff to the effect that he masturbates while thinking about her including, but not limited to, comments that he masturbated to the point of “stalactites” hanging from the ceiling and that he needs a “shield” when looking at her Facebook page. Lt. Schettine also told Plaintiff in front of a group of new firefighters that he was a monkey in a cage “jerking off” and throwing snot at her.
- Lt. Schettine told Plaintiff, in front of witnesses including the Deputy Chief at Station 1, that Plaintiff’s ex-husband wanted to be with her so he could sexually molest her daughters while she is at work.
- Lt. Schettine informed Plaintiff that he wanted to perform oral sex on her and subjected her to unwanted touching by pressing himself against her on at least one occasion at Station 3.
- Lt. Schettine’s comments and inappropriate actions were constant and were made on a routine basis throughout Plaintiff’s employment and whenever they came into contact with each other.
- Lt. Schettine’s comments were made in front of senior individuals to whom Plaintiff would have complained. Lt. Schettine’s comments were made when he was the senior officer to whom Plaintiff would have complained.
- Lt. Schettine’s comments and inappropriate acts were so pervasive that they created a hostile work environment and contributed to Plaintiff’s ultimate constructive discharge.
- Fellow firefighters including senior officers never intervened despite witnessing Lt. Schettine’s harassment.
- In addition to the actions of Lt. Schettine, Plaintiff was subjected to numerous other instances of sexual harassment throughout the course of her career until her constructive discharge in February 2014. In addition to creating a hostile work environment, these instances demonstrate the discriminatory animus of the City and its male firefighters to women in the workplace and Plaintiff in particular.
- On or about September 25, 2011, Plaintiff received a death threat in the form of a drawing of a face with a bullet in its head on her locker at Station No. 4. Plaintiff made an unusual incident report and complained to Chief Ray Senecal, who was a deputy chief at the time. (This incident is hereinafter referred to as “the first death threat.”)
- Chief Senecal told Plaintiff “boys will be boys” and “don’t let these guys [referring to male firefighters] get to you”. Nothing came of the investigation and Plaintiff’s difficulties at work continued.
- Soon after Plaintiff received the death threat and complained, she was denied promotions to lieutenant in favor of less qualified male employees.
- At or about the end of January 2014, Plaintiff was brought into a bunkroom at the firehouse by three male supervisors, Deputy Chief Vince Krawiecki, Lieutenant George Burns and Lieutenant Mike Angelozzi, and accused of making a sexual harassment complaint against Lt. Schettine on behalf of another female firefighter. (This incident is hereinafter referred to as “the bunkroom incident”).
- These individuals did not call Plaintiff in to an appropriate office for a formal meeting and did not provide her with union representation, but rather intimidated her by bringing her into a bunkroom where she was outnumbered by three (3) men. Plaintiff was never advised of the outcome or circumstances of this alleged sexual harassment complaint.
- When Plaintiff complained during the bunkroom incident that the supervisors never made an effort to investigate her prior death threat, Deputy Chief Krawiecki responded “what do you expect? The guys [male firefighters] had to up the ante.”
- Deputy Chief Krawiecki’s comment verbalized what the facts in this case demonstrate – that Defendant and its agents, employees and superior officers did not want female firefighters in the workplace and were attempting to drive Plaintiff out.
- Upon information and belief, Deputy Chief Krawiecki was a decision maker with respect to the terms and conditions of Plaintiff’s employment including whether to promote Plaintiff to the position of Lieutenant.
- Following the bunkroom incident, Plaintiff complained to Lt. Angelozzi about the circumstances of the meeting. Nothing was done.
- Within one (1) week of the bunkroom incident and Plaintiff’s complaints, Plaintiff was again passed over for a promotion to Lieutenant. The City promoted Matthew Reinemann, upon information and belief, an employee less senior than Plaintiff and with no teaching experience as compared to Plaintiff. Soon thereafter, Plaintiff was passed over for a promotion in favor of Joshua Canelli, upon information and belief, an employee less senior than Plaintiff with no additional education or training experience and who had never worked out of grade as a lieutenant. Mr. Canelli was also lower on the Civil Service list than Plaintiff at this time, and had been lower on the list in the past.
- At the time of these promotions, Plaintiff was second on the Civil Service list for a promotion. Although Mr. Reinemann was first on the list, in the past, the City promoted male employees who were lower than Plaintiff on the list. The City never, however, promoted Plaintiff over male employees who were higher than her on the list.
- On or about February 2, 2014, Plaintiff received another death threat in the form of a picture of a face with a bullet in its head stuck into her boot. The death threat was very similar in appearance to the first death threat. In light of the fact that the firehouse is not accessible to the public and the similarities in appearance to the first threat which supervisors acknowledged was made by a male firefighter(s), it was obvious that the death threat was made by another firefighter. (This incident is hereinafter referred to as the “second death threat”.)
- Plaintiff immediately reported the death threat to her supervisor on duty, Lt. Schettine. Lt. Schettine told her he could not do anything for her and that he did not want to be alone in the room with her. In addition to the fact that Lt. Schettine had harassed Plaintiff for her entire career, Lt. Schettine did not want to be in the room with Plaintiff and failed to assist her in any way because she had been questioned about a sexual harassment complaint allegedly made against him.
- Plaintiff reported the death threat to a Captain once he arrived at the station and then to the police.
- On or about February 2, 2014, Plaintiff was placed on “Chief’s leave”, which is essentially an informal, involuntary leave of absence. The following day, Plaintiff was ordered to appear at Ellis Hospital for a “fitness for duty” evaluation despite the fact that she had already had her physical for the year. Upon information and belief, the City had informed Ellis Hospital that it was concerned Plaintiff was a threat to herself or others despite having no foundation or reasonable basis for this belief.
- At the time it placed Plaintiff on Chief’s leave and ordered her to an evaluation, Defendant had merely observed that Plaintiff was understandably upset after she received the death threat in her boot.
- Plaintiff was placed on Chief’s leave and ordered to attend a fitness for duty evaluation prior to providing Defendant with any correspondence from her own medical providers.
- By placing Plaintiff on Chief’s leave and ordering her for a fitness for duty evaluation after merely observing that Plaintiff was upset, Defendant treated Plaintiff differently because she is a woman. Defendant does not put men on leave when they become upset at work and does not order men for fitness for duty evaluations for becoming upset on an isolated occasion.
- Following Plaintiff’s placement on Chief’s leave, Chief Senecal instructed Plaintiff not to enter any firehouse. Plaintiff’s subsequent attempts to reach Chief Senecal by telephone in order to discuss her employment were unsuccessful and her telephone messages were not returned.
- Following her placement on Chief’s Leave and the order to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation, at the evaluation on or about February 7, 2014, Plaintiff provided medical documentation to Ellis Hospital to the effect that she was unable to return to work due to the psychological distress resulting from the second death threat and the years’ of harassment and discrimination she suffered at the hands of the City.
- Upon information and belief, Ellis Hospital subsequently, but not sooner than February 13, 2014, provided this information to the City. Plaintiff has never been asked to return to work; has never been promoted to the position of Lieutenant; and has never otherwise been contacted by the City in order to facilitate a return to work.
- Plaintiff remains out of work as a result of the intolerable working conditions created by the City and the severe psychological injuries she suffered after enduring years’ of sexual harassment, discrimination and threats and, therefore, has been constructively discharged.
This is a report on a civil lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court. The details in this report come from an original complaint filed by a plaintiff. Please note that a complaint represents an accusation by a private individual, not the government. It is not an indication of guilt, and it represents only one side of the story.