Newark firefighter alleges demotion was retaliation for racial discrimination suit

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 25, 2014

A longtime Newark arson investigator claims he was transferred out of his position as retaliation for filing a lawsuit against the city and Fire Director James Stewart.

 

NEWARK — A veteran city arson investigator is alleging that he was transferred out of his longtime position as retaliation for filing a racial discrimination lawsuit against the fire department.

Ramon Irizarry, who had been with the fire department’s Division of Investigations since 1992, has been reassigned to its Training Division as of earlier this week, according to Irizarry’s Hackensack-based attorney, Edward Nolan.

An internal memo from Fire Chief John Centanni obtained by NJ Advance Media indicates the transfer was ordered on Sept. 5, the same day an article detailing Irizarry’s lawsuit against Fire Director James Stewart and the city was published in the Star-Ledger.

The memo describes the transfer as temporary, but includes no estimate of when it might be reversed.

Nolan said he believed the move was clearly meant as a response to Irizarry’s suit, which he amended earlier this week to include an additional retaliation claim.

“If they were smart they would have maybe waited six months or something like that,” he said. “You can’t get more obvious than this.”

A secretary in Stewart’s office said he was on vacation and referred comment to a city spokeswoman, who was not immediately available for comment.

In his lawsuit, filed Aug. 25 in Essex County Superior Court, Irizanny alleges that he has been subject to harassment and retaliation for reporting to authorities that Stewart was seeking to arm a former arson investigator who was not allowed to carry a weapon, and sending “unqualified and politically-connected candidates to the Newark Fire Academy.”

Irizarry, who is Hispanic, claims that since Stewart took over as fire director in December, he “belittled and humiliated” in front of co-workers, and stripped of his service weapon and various duties and responsibilities.

He joined the fire department in 1986, and took over supervisory duties including fire department candidate investigations and internal affairs investigations in the arson unit beginning in 2008, according to his lawsuit.

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