MANHATTAN (CN) – At Day 1 on the job, a New York City firefighter claims in a federal complaint, four naked firemen confronted the rookie in the gym for a surprise “teabagging.”
Becoming a firefighter had been Gordon Springs’ childhood dream, according to the complaint, filed on Jan. 20 in Manhattan. After he graduated from the academy in May 2015, Springs says he was assigned to Engine 40, Ladder 35, a firehouse near Lincoln Center. The firehouse’s website notes that they call themselves “the Cavemen.”
Springs says the drill instructors told him to report for duty with “traditional firehouse gifts (cakes and pies,)” but that his tour was waylaid in the gym area.
Barricaded in the room with three other probies, Springs allegedly turned around “in a state of shock and horror” to find four of his new co-workers completely naked.
Springs says he knew better than to ignore the orders of a senior firefighter, even a nude one, so he did what he was told when one yelled at him to use the bench press.
While Springs lay supine on the bench and began lifting two dumbbells, according to the complaint, the senior fireman bent down and directed his genitals at Springs’ face.
The complaint says this man then “literally placed his testicles onto plaintiff Springs’ forehead.”
Meanwhile another of the naked men allegedly did pull-ups in Springs’ line of vision.
“I know you liked my balls in your mouth,” the teabagger told Springs, according to the complaint, once they finally left the gym.
A spokesman for FDNY noted that the department took Springs’ claims seriously and indeed has already taken action.
“The department aggressively investigated this incident, punished those involved, and will continue to mete out appropriate discipline to anyone who violates our anti-hazing policy,” Frank Dwyer with the FDNY Press Office said in an email.
Springs’ lawsuit comes several months after the New York Post reported in an exclusive that the FDNY had disciplined five firefighters and two officers at the Lincoln Center firehouse for a 2015 hazing incident.
Though the article does not name him or his bullies, Springs says his new firehouse gave him a hard time about the publicity.
“You’re almost famous,” one said, according to the complaint. “Everything is in the paper besides your name.”
“You’re wrong,” someone else allegedly interrupted. “His name is in the paper except that it is spelt wrong because it says he is a ‘firefighter.’”
Springs, who is black, claims that racism has compounded the harassment against him.
“I don’t like you … blacks getting on the job this way,” the teabagger told Springs, two weeks on the job, according to the complaint. “You don’t have a good work ethic.”
This comment reflected a mistaken assumption, according to the complaint, that Springs was what the department calls “priority hires,” stemming from the FDNY’s widely reported hiring-discrimination settlement with the Vulcan Society.
Springs says he also endured harsher treatment because of his race when senior firemen instructed the probies to climb up the firehouse pole for another hazing ritual.
Though all the probational firefighters had buckets of water thrown on them when they reached the top, according to the complaint, Springs alone had breadcrumbs thrown on him as well.
He says he fell one story to the floor.
Later that summer, Springs says he was the only firefighter to have his locker vandalized. This happened after Springs told another firefighter he need to check his schedule before he could agree to cover an upcoming tour.
Between August 2015 and February 2016, according to the complaint, Springs vacillated between medical leave and light duty because of the injury to his back from falling off the pole.
Once he returned to full duty he allegedly found that someone had stomped on his uniform and shredded it with a knife.
“Coincidentally the uniform was stabbed in the area where plaintiff Springs’ heart would be,” the complaint states.
Springs filed a complaint about the desecration of his uniform, but he says the brass never followed up.
Though Springs took a transfer to Ladder 40 in West Harlem, he says he faced hostility there too because his complaints were not kept confidential. The FDNY gave Springs another transfer in July, according to the complaint, but it is keeping him “in limbo without a permanent firehouse.”
Springs says he is still with the department but that his sexual assault from that first day follows him around like a “scarlett (sic) letter.”
He seeks punitive damages for 19 causes of action including discrimination and retaliation. The firefighter is represented by Paul Liggieri at Derek Smith Law Group.