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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Glass Ceiling at Firehouse, Worker Says

JAMAICA, N.Y. (CN) - Hurricane Sandy didn't blow away a culture of discrimination against Latino workers at a private firefighting company in Queens, a Puerto Rican worker claims in court.

Antonio Rojas, 26, sued Academy Fire Protection and Academy Services Group in Queens County Supreme Court.

Rojas says he started working for the Maspeth-based company in July this year as a regional coordinator.

He says he quickly noticed that his employers gave his non-Latino colleagues preferential treatment and paid them $1.75 per hour more on average.

Rojas claims he was paid $12.50 an hour, and non-Hispanic colleagues received $14.25.

"On October 29, 2012, the massive Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern coastal states of America, wholly devastating homes, businesses and infrastructure along the shores of New York, among other places," the complaint states.

That day, Academy's president John Della Marco told all employees, "don't worry about it," if they could not make it into work the next day due to the storm, according to the complaint.

Rojas says his home on "the southern tip of Brooklyn ... only blocks away from three waterways" was "absolutely devastated" by Sandy.

Rojas says he lost power after the storm made landfall, and that the outage lasted at least until he filed his complaint last week, on Nov. 7.

"By the morning of Tuesday, October 30, 2012, plaintiff's home was destroyed by the massive flooding and wind damage caused by the storm, as floodwaters rushed into his home and engulfed his entire first floor. Essentially, plaintiff lost everything including most of the contents of his home, likely his home itself and his automobile among many other things," the complaint states.

"Suffice it to say, by Tuesday morning plaintiff had no access to a landline or email, and his cell phone battery was dying or dead without the ability to charge it. Before his cell phone died, plaintiff found it impossible due to storm damage to find a cell signal to make calls or send messages.

"The storm continued Tuesday as plaintiff made every effort to find safety for himself and his family."

Rojas says he was finally able to call in to work on Oct. 31 to let his bosses know that he could not come into work.

"Despite plaintiff's wholly reasonable and responsible conduct during the tragic circumstances occurring to him, his neighbors and his fellow New Yorkers, and despite the fact that the circumstance which plaintiff suffered were highly verifiable, defendants informed plaintiff on Wednesday, October 31, 2012, that his employment was terminated because he had not bothered to contact the company earlier," the complaint states.

Rojas claims that non-Latino colleagues got relief, rather than a pink slip.

"While defendants terminated plaintiff's employment, defendants held a fund raiser for a non-Hispanic coworker, not terminating her but, rather, supporting her fully throughout the ordeal," the complaint states.

The company then "began a campaign to fabricate evidence to support its pretextual and discriminatory termination," Rojas claims.

"Upon information and belief, defendants had plaintiff's former coworkers contrive written statements claiming the plaintiff was in contact with the coworkers via his cell phone throughout the entire storm, and afterwards, to try to show that plaintiff should have called his job earlier," the complaint states. "However, plaintiff's cell phone records clearly prove otherwise."

Rojas seeks punitive damages for discrimination based on ethnicity and national origin.

He is represented by Russell Moriarty with Levine & Blit, of Manhattan.

Academy could not immediately be reached for comment after business hours Tuesday.

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