A Babylon Town worker could lose his job after posting hateful insults on social media targeting a Muslim teenager in Lindenhurst the day before her graduation, the town supervisor said Friday.
The Facebook account of Andy Vita, 51, posted commentary on Thursday in response to a Lindenhurst School District video celebrating its high-achieving high school seniors, including salutatorian Yasmin Zohny, who appeared in the video wearing a traditional Muslim hijab, or headscarf.
The video was shared on a Lindenhurst Facebook community page. The Facebook account of Vita, who is a member of that community, responded with expletives and derisive comments about Zohny’s hijab.
Condemnation from the community was swift, and Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer was alerted. Schaffer said that as of Friday Vita was suspended for 30 days without pay from his job as a heavy equipment operator in the Department of Public Works. Schaffer said the town is seeking to fire Vita, who as a union member is entitled to defend himself in a hearing within the next 30 days.
Neither Vita nor a woman who identified herself as his wife, Jenn Vita, on Facebook, responded to requests Friday for comment.
She defended her husband on the same community page, claiming that his account was hacked and that they had filed a police report. Suffolk County police on Friday could not immediately confirm the report.
“That’s not something he would have written,” Jenn Vita wrote. “He had been hacked before you don’t know him he is not that person.”
The Facebook profile under which the comments about Zohny were posted has been taken down, but another profile under his name features photos of a town truck and a selfie of Vita in his town shirt. It also contains a voluminous amount of shared political posts and memes going back more than two years, including several disparaging Muslims. An image of the Earth has the words “Imagine if you will . . . a planet with no Muslims.” Another post says “Americans have the right to insult Islam.”
According to town records, Vita was paid nearly $84,000 last year and has been an employee since 1985. Schaffer said Vita was one of several “critical” workers who helped rescue residents during superstorm Sandy in 2012, lifting them out in a payloader bucket.
“I was blindsided by this,” Schaffer said, adding that it’s unclear whether Vita made the comments — which appear to have been posted about 1 p.m. — while on the job.
Regardless, Schaffer said, “Once you’re a public employee and your salary and your benefits and your pension are paid for by the taxpayers, I believe you’re a public employee 24/7.”
Zohny, who with her family declined to speak to Newsday, is graduating Friday. In a statement, Lindenhurst school Superintendent Dan Giordano called Zohny a well-liked and hardworking student.
“I will not allow anyone’s ignorance to taint this academic milestone for Yasmin, or any other Lindenhurst student,” Giordano said.
In the district’s video, Zohny mentions joining a youth group near a mosque.
“I think it’s important to become active in your community because we can’t all save the world, obviously, but we can help it,” she said.
Zohny, who will attend the University of Texas in Austin in the fall to study engineering, went on to say she is thankful to everyone she has met on the way to graduation.
“Even the people who haven’t been kind to me have taught me something I’m going to take with me,” she said.