Four former Coram volunteer firefighters have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against fire district officials charging that they were fired after protesting a racist comment allegedly made by a commissioner.
The plaintiffs, including a former chief and three former assistant chiefs, said Coram fire commissioners later retaliated by writing letters calling them "malcontents" to keep them from being hired by neighboring fire departments.
Former chief Ronald Curaba and former assistant chiefs Robert Kinahan, Robert Kullak and Christopher Cacace seek more than $1 million for lost compensation such as tax breaks, pension benefits and insurance discounts afforded to volunteer firefighters, said their attorney, Troy Kessler of Melville.
The suit, filed Tuesday in federal District Court in Central Islip, names as defendants the fire district; commissioners Thomas Lyon, Vandorn Johnson, Jerome A. Delli Bovi, Steven Yalamas and Timothy Heidrich; and business manager Salvatore Giarrizzo.
A message left for Coram district officials and those named in the suit was not returned, and attempts to reach their attorneys were unsuccessful.
In court papers, Curaba said he was suspended after he confronted Giarrizzo following an incident during a May 19, 2007, district installation dinner. Curaba said Giarrizzo told an African-American firefighter, "I don't like black people."
Curaba, Kinahan, Kullak and Cacace said in court papers Coram fire commissioners refused to reprimand Giarrizzo. Kinahan, Kullak and Cacace resigned as assistant chiefs in July 2007 and they were later fired from their firefighter positions, according to court papers. Curaba also was fired.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has supported the allegations contained in the suit. In a decision dated Nov. 19, 2013, and included as part of the federal lawsuit, EEOC Director John E. Thompson Jr. said fire district officials' "failure to act in light of racially discriminatory conduct" while "disparaging" Curaba and the assistant chiefs "support a finding that these firefighters were retaliated against."
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The EEOC ruling said Coram commissioners had argued that Curaba had been suspended because he head-butted Giarrizzo, that the assistant chiefs were suspended for violating their oaths of office by resigning, and that Giarrizzo's dispute with the African-American firefighter had been "satisfactorily resolved."