FDNY chief who claimed ‘racially divisive’ views stalled career settles lawsuit with city
Deputy Assistant Chief of Operations Michael Gala was bumped up to assistant chief and given more than $100,000 in a resolution to the suit he filed against the city
New York Daily News
An FDNY chief who claimed his career stalled because he wrote harshly critical letters years ago about department efforts to hire more Black firefighters has settled his lawsuit against the city.
Deputy Assistant Chief of Operations Michael Gala was bumped up to Assistant Chief and given more than $100,000 in a resolution to the suit he filed against the city in Brooklyn Federal Court last November. He was paid $95,000 for the suit as well as $6,000 in backpay.
Gala, 60, claimed that in May 2020, department brass pressed him to say, “I am not the same man I was” when he wrote several pointed letters to the Chief Leader newspaper in 2007 and 2011. If he refused, he was forfeiting any chances of advancement, the suit alleged.
But as part of the settlement, Gala had to write a new letter expressing regret about his first missives.
“I understand some concerns recently arose from letters I wrote many years ago in the Chief-Leader,” he said in the May 18, 2021 note. “I sought to add my voice to an important debate that was raging at the time: how to increase diversity in the FDNY without modifying hiring standards. I did not intend my letters to offend anyone or to denigrate the importance of diversity.
“My aim was to make clear that diversity could, and should, be achieved without sacrificing hiring standards. I regret that certain impertinent statements distracted from that point and caused anyone to question my commitment to diversity,” Gala wrote.
It was a sharp change of tone from the letters to the editor that put him in the hot seat.
“These apparently are the men who have all the answers as to what’s wrong with the face of the New York City Fire Department,” he wrote in one editorial. “Simply stated, it is too white. It is not black enough ... If you are a black firefighter in this department and you have an opinion, then speak up, brother. If you are a female firefighter, then you may speak up as well.
“However, if you are a white male firefighter, keep your bigoted, racist opinions to yourself ... God forbid someone started a white firefighters association.”
Gala wrote the pieces during the long and bitter battle between the FDNY and the Vulcan Society, a group of Black firefighters who sued the department over discrimination and eventually won.
He claimed the FDNY’s decision not to promote him unless he disavowed the letters violated his first amendment rights.
“Even if one disagrees with the plaintiff’s statements from years ago regarding the FDNY’s hiring standards ... there can be no disagreement about their status as protected speech,” his lawyers wrote in legal papers.
The FDNY will publicly announce Gala’s promotion by the end of the month as part of the settlement.
The agency declined to comment on the lawsuit.
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