Gilbert Darrell, a seven year veteran of the South Schenectady Fire Department, had his first of three complaints against the department on the basis of race dismissed on Thursday, April 29, by the New York State Division of Human Rights.
The ruling, which was based on a 2008 complaint field by Darrell alleging arbitrary disciplinary actions because of his race, was based on the findings of a November 2009 hearing. At the hearing, former colleague Robert Mercoglan testified on Darrell’s behalf, saying Chief James P. DeLorenzo, who left the department at the end of 2008, used Darrell’s race as `a means by which to humiliate and embarrass him.` Mercoglan also testified that he heard `derogatory remarks made about [the] complainant’s race, both by Chief James DeLorenzo and by fire commissioners William MacMillan and Louie Morrett.`
In the April 29 written opinion of Administrative Law Judge Edward Luban, the judge cites that the derogatory remarks that Mercoglan presented were `time-barred` and that the alleged discriminatory practice happened more than a year before the original complaint was filed. The judge also said that since Darrell did not lose any benefits and his material responsibilities were not significantly diminished by disciplinary actions, that the complainant was unable to show that he was a subject to unlawful discrimination.
Darrell came to the South Schenectady Fire Department, serving Rotterdam Fire District No. 6, in 2002 as a volunteer, after working in Mariaville for five years. During his time at the South Schenectady Fire Department, he ran into some conflicts with then-Assistant Chief DeLorenzo, but said those higher up in the department treated him fairly. When DeLorenzo became chief of the department in 2008, however, Darrell said he was put under extra scrutiny, and the board of fire commissioners didn’t do anything about it.
Attorney Tom Witz, who is representing South Schenectady Fire Department, said he is happy with the result of the decision.
`Obviously we are happy with the result of the case. It was the right result,` said Witz. `We’re happy to put it behind us and move on.`
While the ruling was not in his favor, Darrell is confident about his other two complaints that have been filed against the department. Currently, he is working alongside his attorney to send a formal appeal to Commissioner of the Division of Human Rights Galen Kirkland in the next month.
`I feel excellent abot this case and it might be overturned by the commissioner,` said Darrell. `I feel that there is a very good chance that the commissioner will side with me.`
Darrell also said that in regards to his two other complaints, that he feels a time constraint will not be a factor in his two other complaints that were filed against the department. Darrell’s dismissal in December of 2009 was the result of a departmental rule, outlined in the 2007 edition of the department’s operating guidelines that says any member receiving three suspensions in a 12-month period may be subject to dismissal pending a review by the chief and fire commissioners. After being let go in December, Darrell filed two more complaints against the department, saying race was the main reason behind his dismissal.
`I think that the time constraint in these next two cases will not be a factor,` he said.
Darrell has recently finished paramedic school at SUNY Cobleskill and is working on applying to medical school by the end of the year.