An FDNY EMT who won $400,000 sitting at home for four years in a dispute with the department after joining a class action lawsuit aimed at ending discrimination in the city’s fire ranks is now hoping to retire, he has learned. know the Daily News.
But before that happens, EMT Arnaldo Rodríguez wants to become a firefighter, which he was well on his way to becoming in 2013 before he was ordered to stay home and stay home by a recently demoted FDNY boss by Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. not return until contacted.
Rodriguez’s attorney argues that he is entitled to $1.5 million in back pay for wages he lost because he was not a firefighter over the past two decades.
Rodriguez, now 47, first applied to become an FDNY firefighter in 1999, but was denied. Still wanting a career as a first responder, he became an EMT the following year and spent more than a decade responding to emergency medical calls in Brooklyn, according to court documents.
While working as an EMT, Rodriguez became a plaintiff in the Vulcan Society lawsuit in which black and minority firefighter candidates claim they were discriminated against because of their race.
Rodríguez was not involved in the case when it first began in 2007, but claiming to have an interest in its outcome, he was later allowed to join the case on the Vulcans’ side.
In 2013, after the city settled the case, Rodriguez received a letter from the Justice Department saying he could reapply to become a firefighter, according to court documents. He later he was admitted to the Fire Academy.
But after four days in the training program, Rodriguez was taken to the office of FDNY chief Michael Gala and told not to return to the academy.
Gala and the department accused him of lying in his medical records by failing to disclose an off-duty injury that left him on light duty for a brief time early in his career. He was also charged with putting false information on his application, court documents say.
When Rodriguez asked where they would send him next, he was simply told: “We’ll call you, don’t call us,” his lawyer, Peter Gleason, told The News.
Gala said through her attorney that by ordering Rodriguez to stay home, she was relaying instructions from officials in the department’s Office of Investigation and Prosecution.
“It was a total humiliation,” Gleason said of his client’s treatment. “They were trying to break his will as a man.”
Gala opposed the Vulcans’ efforts to diversify the FDNY in letters published in The Chief-Leader, a newspaper aimed at the city’s civil service workers. He later settled a lawsuit against the city that claimed his career was stalled because of the letters. As part of the deal, the city paid him $101,000 and promoted him to deputy department head.
Gala is now fighting for his job after Kavanagh demoted him and two other underbosses in February.
According to court documents, Rodríguez spent four years, from August 2013 to September 2017, at his home in Woodside, Queens, waiting for the call to return to work. During all that time he was on administrative leave and received full salary and benefits from him.
“It is unusual for someone to be on administrative leave for four years,” noted a 2021 arbitration hearing on Rodríguez’s case.
During the first year of his exile, Rodríguez was paid as a firefighter, Gleason said. During the last three, he was paid at a lower rate as an EMT.
“Adding benefits, taxpayers paid more than $400,000 for a able-bodied man to sit at home,” Gleason said.
“But it was a double-edged sword,” added the lawyer. “In a way, being so despised as a Vulcan litigator was distressing. But on the other hand, not being in that atmosphere for four years was refreshing.”
When Rodríguez finally returned to work, he was suspended for 60 days without pay. Eventually he was reinstated as an EMT and currently works for the EMS Bureau of Medical Affairs teaching new employees how to drive ambulances.
Because the department has punished several EMTs for speaking to the press about the challenges they faced during the COVID pandemic, Gleason declined The News’ request to speak with Rodriguez. As Gleason spoke to a reporter, Rodriguez sat quietly.
Local 2507, the EMT union, filed a grievance on Rodríguez’s behalf saying his multi-year license violated his contract with the city and demanded that Rodríguez be reinstated to the FDNY as a firefighter since he was in the fire academy when he was sent to home. The union says that therefore he is owed back pay at the higher rate.
There is a large pay gap between firefighters and EMTs, even though both respond to emergency medical calls, a disparity the federal government wants the city to address.
Entry-level EMTs are paid a base salary of $39,386, according to city records. Within five years, his salary increases to $59,534. City firefighters begin their careers with a salary of $43,904 that rises to $85,292 after five years.
After hearing Rodriguez’s case, City Referee Lisa Charles determined in October 2021 that the FDNY wrongfully disciplined Rodriguez and ordered the department to “strife the discipline from his record, rescind the 60-day suspension, pay him the lost time with interest and make it whole.”
Charles agreed with Rodriguez and Local 2507 that the errors Rodriguez noted on his fire academy medical forms in 2013 were unintentional and that during his years as an EMT, the Fire Department built comprehensive records on his health. .
At a March 1 Manhattan Supreme Court hearing on Rodriguez’s position with the FDNY, Gleason said Rodriguez “very strongly wants to be restored as a firefighter.”
“When you complete someone, you put them back where they should have been on the date of the incident,” Gleason said during the hearing. “So if that happened, standing here today, Arnaldo Rodríguez would be a 20-something-year-old firefighter.”
As a firefighter, his client should receive about $1.5 million in back wages, Gleason argued.
If the FDNY agrees to make Rodriguez a firefighter and offers a back pay agreement, their client would back out immediately, Gleason said. He would not be eligible to retire as an EMT until 2025.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Moye denied the city’s motion to dismiss Gleason’s application to become a firefighter and sent the case back to arbitration to determine Rodriguez’s future with the FDNY.
How does it happen
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
“I can’t give him the full relief he’s asking for, but he’ll live to fight another day,” Moye said.
Both the FDNY and the city’s Legal Department declined to comment as the case continues through arbitration.
The FDNY has been warming to Rodriguez lately and in October on social media promoted an off-duty save he made while running the Chicago marathon.
Last month, Kavanagh demoted Gala and two other FDNY chiefs of staff to deputy chiefs for being “bad apples” and not following their mandates, FDNY officials said.
In response, several FDNY chiefs, including department chief John “Jack” Hodgens, the highest-ranking uniformed firefighter, also requested to be demoted to deputy chief and placed back in the field. Gala and the other demoted bosses are currently suing to get their jobs back.
Gleason expects Kavanagh to use his power to make Rodriguez a firefighter, which Gleason believes the class action settlement mandates indicate should happen.
“Arnaldo has had enough of the turmoil emanating from the highest levels of the FDNY where the commissioner’s office has done nothing to prevent or resolve this situation,” Gleason said. “This would be a superficial decision. If Laura Kavanagh can’t follow a federal court mandate, then it sounds like she doesn’t abide by the rules and regulations.”