Man in iconic 9/11 photo sues FDNY for racial discrimination
Lt. Daniel McWilliams alleges his civil rights were violated by his racially-motivated exclusion from an FDNY color guard honoring black department members
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — A white firefighter charged in a new lawsuit that his civil rights were violated by his racially-motivated exclusion from an FDNY color guard honoring black department members.
Lt. Daniel McWilliams, in a Brooklyn Federal Court suit filed Friday, alleged that he was callously booted from serving as a flag bearer at the Nov. 19, 2017, memorial Mass for deceased members of the Vulcan Society — a group for black firefighters within the FDNY.
“Lieutenant, I specifically requested an all-black color guard,” said one-time society president Regina Wilson, according to the lawsuit.
“Are you removing me from the color guard because I am not black?” replied McWilliams, a 29-year FDNY veteran assigned to its ceremonial unit.
“Yes I am,” the court papers quote Wilson as replying.
According to the lawsuit, the “racially-charged exchanges” were overheard by McWilliams’ friends and colleagues and the firefighter left the church “to save himself from further shame, humiliation and embarrassment.”
McWilliams was one of three FDNY members in a memorable post-9/11 photo showing the trio raising an American flag amid the rubble at Ground Zero. He first filed a complaint about the memorial incident with the FDNY in January 2018.
“As a result of the defendants’ conduct, (McWilliams) has suffered severe shame, emotional distress and damage to his reputation,” the lawsuit charged. “Defendant Wilson ... intentionally, maliciously and publicly stripped the plaintiff of (his) prestigious honor ... on account of his race.”
The court filing seeks a jury trial to set compensatory and punitive damages against the Vulcan Society, the FDNY, Wilson and the City of New York.
“We will review the complaint once we are served and respond accordingly," said a spokesman for the city Law Department.
Emails to the Vulcan Society and the FDNY for comment were not returned Saturday, and Wilson did not respond to texts and calls about the lawsuit.
The court filing goes on to detail how Wilson, during an investigation by the FDNY’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office, asserted that she held the power to request an all-black color guard for the event — and to boot any white members who appeared at the memorial.
The FDNY Bureau of Legal Affairs, arguing against McWilliams, contended his dismissal from the color guard was a non-discriminatory “subtle exclusion” of the plaintiff. But McWilliams accused the FDNY of “once again turning a blind eye to discrimination and creating a double-standard within the FDNY.”
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