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Lawsuit: Asian American FF says deputy chief made racist COVID-19 remarks

Plainfield Firefighter Timothy Burkhard claims Deputy Fire Chief Pietro Martino squinted his eyes and asked Burkhard if he had recently been to Wuhan during COVID-19 training

By Laura French

PLAINFIELD, N.J. — An Asian American firefighter from New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against a deputy fire chief for allegedly making a racist comment directed at him during COVID-19 training.

Plainfield Firefighter Timothy Burkhard claims in his lawsuit filed against Deputy Fire Chief Pietro Martino this month that during the training in March, Martino made “racist comments about Asians” and “mockingly” asked Burkhard if he had recently been in Wuhan, China while squinting his eyes “so that they narrowed in a racist caricature of Asian facial features,” according to the Bridgewater Courier News.

Burkhard said that about 19 other firefighters witnessed the comments made by Martino, including five lieutenants and one battalion chief, and that no one told Martino the comments were inappropriate.

The lawsuit alleges that the deputy chief’s conduct during training created a hostile workplace environment where other firefighters felt it acceptable to openly make racist comments about people of Asian heritage and remark about them being responsible for the spread of COVID-19. Burkhard said he faced other instances of harassment following the March incident.

The suit also accuses the city of Plainfield of violating New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination by allegedly failing to take action after being made aware about the comments reported by Burkhard.

According to the Bridgewater Courier News, Plainfield officials did not respond to requests for comment.