NY firefighter claims sexual harassment lawsuit

A female firefighter said she was passed over for promotions and subjected to harassment from her supervisors

Times Union

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — A veteran city firefighter/paramedic on sick leave has filed a notice of claim contending that she endured years of sexual harassment and death threats, and was twice passed over for promotions in favor of less-qualified male colleagues because she complained to commanders about the offensive behavior.

The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, describes in lascivious terms how Jennifer Costa's supervisor, Lt. Dan Schettine, allegedly told her he liked to masturbate while looking at her Facebook page.

"Mr. Schettine's comments were constant and pervasive and go beyond the bounds of decency and any acceptable behavior, and were made in the presence of deputy chiefs," states the claim, filed Friday by attorney Giovanna D'Orazio of Saratoga Springs.

"This has been very difficult for Ms. Costa because this is a very private and personal situation that because of the filing of the notice has become public," another of Costa's attorneys, Scott M. Peterson, said. He said they plan next week to file claims with the state Division of Human Rights and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In 2012, the claim alleges, Costa felt "threatened and violated" when another supervisor, Lt. Gary Copolla, followed through on a promise to have a male friend of his come to the firehouse for the purpose of having sex with Costa. That same year, the claim contends, Costa received a drawing of a face with bullet in its head, which she interpreted as a death threat, on her locker at Station Number Four at Avenue A and Nott Street.

When Costa complained to Fire Chief Raymond Senecal, who was a deputy chief at the time, he told her "boys will be boys" and nothing came of the complaint, according to the legal document.

In January, Costa alleges, three male supervisors took her to a bedroom at the firehouse and failed to provide her with a union representative while accusing her of making a sexual harassment complaint against Schettine on behalf of another female firefighter.

When Costa complained that those supervisors failed to investigate her prior death threat, Deputy Chief Vince Krawiecki allegedly responded, "What do you expect? The guys had to up the ante."

On Feb. 2, Costa, who has 14 years with the fire department, allegedly received a second death threat, which she reported to Schettine. He allegedly told her "he could not do anything for her."

That same day, she was put on leave of absence and ordered to appear at Ellis Hospital for evaluation to determine her fitness for duty, ostensibly because she might be a threat to herself or others.

Costa, a city resident, is on paid leave and seeking disability and early retirement because of "intolerable working conditions, including years of harassment, death threats and discrimination and retaliation," the claim states.

It seeks unspecified damages on several fronts, including past and present earnings and compensation for emotional distress and mental anguish as well as attorney's fees.

Senecal did not immediately return a call for comment.

Mayor Gary McCarthy declined Tuesday to specifically address the allegations citing pending litigation.

He acknowledged, however, that Costa's accusations would not help the department in its ongoing efforts to attract women and minorities.

"A lot of things that are submitted are not factually correct," added McCarthy, who referred questions to his Corporation Counsel, John Polster.

He said Tuesday that his office will launch an investigation. "Once we're able to determine what the facts are, then we'll be able to make the appropriate response," said Polster, noting that the fact that the claim is so detailed "now that we have specific things to inquire about." "You have so many paths the investigation could take."

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