A Massapequa-based business repeatedly allowed employees to use epithets against minority co-workers — even condoning employees programming their phones with a racial slur announcing a colleague’s call — the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a suit against the company.
A & F Fire Protection Co. subjected blacks and Hispanics to “ongoing severe or pervasive harassment” because of their race or national origin, according to the civil rights suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
Business owner Kenneth Fulep allegedly did nothing about the discrimination over the years, even when the slurs were uttered in his presence, the suit said. The federal agency accuses him of firing or forcing out minority workers when they complained about their treatment.
Fulep’s attorney said his client “vehemently” denies the allegations. “A & F Fire Protection is an equal opportunity employer and continues to promote a workplace free of discrimination and harassment,” said Jonathan Farrell of Mineola.
But in court papers, the EEOC said an assistant superintendent, who is black, had learned that some superiors and subordinates nicknamed him a racial slur on their cell phones. When he met with two of them and Fulep in June 2013, he rang their phones, court papers said. Each time, the smartphone announced the slur, which the assistant superintendent continued hearing on colleagues’ phones even after the meeting, the suit said.
When two employees filed complaints with the EEOC, Fulep ordered the assistant superintendent to fire them, the federal agency said. The assistant superintendent refused, the lawsuit said, and he was forced out in May 2015 after the company converted him from a salaried employee to an hourly employee, reduced his work hours and barred him from reporting to work at the main office during business hours.
A & F Fire Protection is a family-owned, second generation business that offers fire protection services from design to construction and installation of equipment, according to its website. Its online list of clients mentions Stony Brook University Hospital, Target, pharmacy chains and residential buildings.
The EEOC said it filed suit after talks with the company this year failed to produce an agreement on how the company handles complaints of discrimination. The suit was filed on behalf of minority employees and documents instances of alleged discrimination from mid 2013 to May 2015 from four men who had worked there.
The commission asked the court to determine the amount of lost pay, compensation and damages to be awarded. The agency also wants the company to set up anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies as well as a system for reporting complaints.
“The use of racial slurs in the workplace is unacceptable,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the commission’s New York district. “The abuse was so pervasive in this case that its tolerance was especially troubling. Upon learning of racial harassment in the workplace, it is an employer’s obligation under the law to ensure that it does not continue.”