A firefighter who had always dreamed of being on an elite FDNY rescue squad had his hopes dashed when his co-workers started suspecting him of being gay he says. But rather than taking his crushed dreams sitting down, he decided to file a lawsuit against his former team instead. Was he discriminated or is there enough reason to suspect not just his gender preference but his actions?
40-year-old Jason Johnson, a former National Guardsman, claims in his Manhattan federal lawsuit filed on Monday that he successfully made it to a Special Operations Command unit in 2016. He was kicked out, however, several months later after a bizarre crotch-grabbing incident while riding a firetruck. The incident started the claims that Johnson was “gay.”
During the ride, apparently other firefighters decided to play a prank on Johnson, Johnson tried to play along but his ploy backfired. Firefighter Jason Ribisi, with co-firefighters watching, “grabbed Johnson’s penis” in what seems like an attempt to harass the then newcomer.
The lawsuit claims that Johnson responded by attempting to kiss Ribisi in an effort to make him “equally uncomfortable.” The ploy backfired big time as the firefighters “cheered” and mocked Johnson, saying “You’re gay, you’re gay, we have confirmed.”
Ribisi and another firefighter kept making disparaging remarks about Johnson’s being gay all through-out the ride. Another firefighter accused Johnson: ”You weren’t supposed to kiss him. You were supposed to punch him! No straight guy would have kissed him.”
The lawsuit also says that the “teasing, taunting and harassment” went on until Johnson was removed from the elite rescue unit in March 2017. The suit shares that the firefighters always found a way to mock Johnson and refer to him as gay including teasing him for eating salads because only “gay guys order salads”; for posting a video of himself on Facebook standing on a street “which happened to have rainbow flag in the background”, and the firefighters taking it as “confirmation” that Johnson’s gay; to taking photos of him while changing without his permission and using the photo to taunt him further.
Johnson sued Ribisi for assault and battery. Johnson, who is also black, is suing for racial and sexual discrimination, as well.
The FDNY has been the target of multiple lawsuits over discrimination and bullying. So far, the city has paid over $100 million in 2014 to settle claims of bias in its hiring of black and Hispanic firefighters.