A firefighter from White Plains, New York is suing the city and the Fire Department for a seven figure sum for harassment and discrimination leading to a hostile work environment when it was discovered he was gay.
Steven Saunders, 43, is a third generation firefighter, a seventeen year veteran and a father of three. In papers filed in the state Supreme Court he said that when rumors began to spread about his sexuality he told Deputy Fire Chief Richard Houlihan he was gay, and he requested that he not tell anyone.
In a report on lohund.com Saunders alleges that Houlihan in fact 'outed' him by telling others in the department.
Once his orientation became public knowledge Saunders was subjected to obscene verbal abuse and mocking by fellow firefighters. Despite his complaints, his suit alleges, his supervisors did nothing to stop it.
Saunders filed the suit, he told lohud.com, to "send a message to my children not to be afraid to stand up for who you are."
In 2009 Saunders was removed from his regular firehouse assignment and made Houlihan's driver instead. The decision to transfer Saunders was made, according to the suit, so that he "would have his own room and the other firefighters would not have to sleep" with him in the firehouse.
The suit also claims that Houlihan advised Saunders to "keep your mouth shut" about the verbal harassment and to "get thicker skin because everyone gets teased — Blacks, Hispanics and Italians."
At a press conference yesterday Saunders told lohud.com: "I grew up in a family of firefighters and my whole life I knew I'd be a firefighter, too. I'm also a father and a gay man. An important part of my identity has been taken away from me by the people that I trusted."