Four members of the Coram Fire Department, including the chief and three former assistant chiefs, have filed a discrimination charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying they were unfairly suspended because of their roles in trying to resolve a racial dispute in the department.
The chief, Ronald Curaba, says the fire district suspended him in July because he stood up against a white employee who was said to have made a racist remark to a black firefighter.
The three assistants resigned as officers in July to protest Curaba’s suspension. They intended to remain with the department as volunteer firefighters but were suspended, a move they say was retaliation for defending Curaba.
The fire district heard Curaba’s protest of his suspension in a hearing last week; a decision is due within 90 days. Sources close to the district said it plans to hold a similar hearing for the three assistants.
Curaba, a 20-year department member, said he doubts he will be treated fairly by the district that suspended him. An attorney for Curaba and the assistants, Troy Kessler of Melville, said he filed the federal charge on March 14.
“I want a wrong to be righted and I want my good name cleared,” said Curaba, who has 180 days from the filing to request the right to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.
The complaints stem from a May 19 fire department event in which Sal Giarrizzo, a white employee, allegedly told Milton Forde, a black department member, “I don’t like black people.”
Department members agree Curaba then confronted Giarrizzo, but disagree about whether he also head-butted Giarrizzo. The department suspended Curaba and took no action against Giarrizzo.
A fire district spokeswoman said fire commissioners are not commenting publicly on the case. Attempts to reach the district’s attorney, William Glass of Port Jefferson, failed.
An EEOC spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on ongoing investigations.