New York, NY – A veteran member of the New York fire department’s color guard filed a lawsuit after he was told he couldn’t participate in a memorial service for members of an organization of black firefighters.
The incident occurred when Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Lieutenant Daniel McWilliams arrived to serve as a flag bearer at the Nov. 19, 2017 memorial Mass for the Vulcan Society, an organization of black FDNY firefighters, the New York Daily News reported.
Lt. McWilliams, a 29-year veteran of the fire department, is one of the three firefighters pictured in the iconic photo of FDNY raising an American flag shortly after the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001.
He was assigned to the ceremonial unit at the time of the incident, but when he arrived at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Harlem for the service honoring deceased Vulcan Society members, he was told his services weren’t wanted, the New York Daily News reported.
“Lieutenant, I specifically requested an all-black color guard,” Regina Wilson, then-president of the Vulcan Society, told Lt. McWilliams, according to the lawsuit.
“Are you removing me from the color guard because I am not black?” Lt. McWilliams asked.
“Yes I am,” Wilson replied.
Lt. McWilliams said Wilson ordered him to “go outside” and perform “lesser duties” such as gathering the attendees for the service, the New York Post reported.
The exchange was overheard by friends and colleagues of the lieutenant, the New York Daily News reported.
The lawsuit said that Lt. McWilliams left the church after his friends overheard “racially-charged exchanges” in order “to save himself from further shame, humiliation and embarrassment," according to FOX News.
The lieutenant has alleged in his lawsuit that the incident was a part of a “consistent practice of… retaliatory racism, particularly towards white members of the FDNY Ceremonial Unit,” the New York Post reported.
Lt. McWilliams’ suit pointed to another incident that occurred in February of 2017 when Wilson told him and seven other white members of the color guard that they couldn’t be in a picture with the family of a fallen firefighter at the dedication of a library in his name.
After the incident at Mass, the FDNY’s Equal Opportunity Employment Office investigated and found that Wilson had claimed she had the power to boot white firefighters off the color guard at will, the New York Daily News reported.
The lawsuit included a letter from the Equal Opportunity Employment Office that concluded “there was sufficient, credible… evidence to find that [McWilliams] was excluded from the Ceremonial Unit color guard on account of his race,” the New York Post reported.
But the FDNY Bureau of Legal Affairs has argued that Lt. McWilliams dismissal from the color guard was a non-discriminatory “subtle exclusion,” according to the New York Daily News.
“I wonder how many lawyers it took in the FDNY Legal Department to come up with that clever term. I’m embarrassed for them,” Keith Sullivan, attorney for McWilliams, told the New York Post.
Sullivan said that FDNY took no action after McWilliams’ complaint was deemed credible except to tell Wilson “she shouldn’t do that.”
“If roles were reversed, my white, male client would be removed from the unit and probably be on the unemployment line today,” the attorney said.
The lawsuit accused FDNY of “once again turning a blind eye to discrimination and creating a double-standard within the FDNY,” FOX News reported.
McWilliams has sued for compensation and punitive damages from the FDNY, Vulcan Society, Regina Wilson and the city of New York, the New York Daily News reported.