In the hot seat

Hoboken fire captain files legal action against city alleging discrimination

A Hoboken fire captain is suing the City of Hoboken claiming the city discriminated against him and violated his constitutional rights when he was passed over for promotion to battalion chief.

According to the Aug. 21 legal filing, Fire Captain Joseph Grossi, Jr. claimed he was passed over for promotion because he supported council candidates in the last election who were not part of Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s ticket.

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On March 9, Fire Chief Brian Crimmins requested a meeting with city officials to discuss temporarily promoting a battalion chief, because a battalion chief was retiring on May 1.

“During the meeting, the fire chief recommended [Grossi] for the position,” states the tort claim. “[Business Administrator Jason] Freeman responded by stating to [Grossi], in front of all in attendance, ‘We know where you were on Election Day.’… [Grossi] responded by asking what that had to do with anything. Freeman did not respond but instead changed the subject as to whether the temporary position was needed.”

The Hoboken Firefighters Union, IAFF Local 1076 of which Grossi is a board member, publicly and actively supported the mayor’s opposition candidates for council.

According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, Grossi contributed financially to the reelection campaign of Councilman Ruben Ramos in 2019.

According to the tort claim, Bhalla was aware of the support via social media accounts, which show photographs of Grossi with several candidates running against the candidates backed by the mayor.

Grossi scored number one on the most recent New Jersey Civil Service Commission test for battalion chief, and city officials, including the city attorney, Freeman, and Mayor Bhalla interviewed him for the role. But the city promoted Audra Carter making her the first female battalion chief in the city’s history.

According to the tort claim, a week after interviewing Grossi for the role, Bhalla informed him that he did not get the promotion, allegedly telling Grossi, “You’re only 34, your time will come, it’s not like you’re 65.”

The claim states, “The City’s bypass of Claimant for promotion was in direct retaliation for his support – individually and as a union board member – of candidates running for Hoboken council that were opposing those the mayor was supporting. The City’s bypass was also the result of discrimination based on age and gender.”

According to the claim, Grossi has suffered economic and emotional distress as a result of the city’s actions, and the city violated the federal and state constitutions by retaliating against him for exercising protected activities. It also alleges that the city violated Grossi’s rights under state and federal discrimination laws and placed him “in a bad light within the department, and has damaged [his] reputation within the firefighting community.”

City spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri declined to comment on the claim, instead referring to comments he made in a May 30th Reporter article, “Not everyone’s fired up.”

At the time, Chaudhuri said Mayor Bhalla chose Carter for the promotion due to her qualifications and 18 years of service, noting that the mayor has the right to choose from a list of qualified applicants.

“Battalion Chief Carter had more years of experience than any other candidate for the position,” said Chaudhuri in May. “Along with many other qualifications and excellent knowledge of Hoboken Fire Department procedures, Mayor Bhalla concluded that Ms. Carter was the best applicant for the job.”

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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