A complaint just filed in Warren County NJ says a teen volunteer was sexually harassed by Raymond “Sonny” Read, Chief of the Franklin Township Fire Department. Chief Read is 40. The teen volunteer, Priya Gupta was 17 at the time of the alleged misconduct.
According to court papers, the harassment began when she was 16 and working as a waitress. Once she began working as an EMS volunteer and firefighter, Chief Read’s misconduct intensified:
“[Chief] Read saw fit to volley some of the most offensive, desperate, and hypersexualized commentary towards Plaintiff, when he (a) asked her if she shaved her genitals; (b) told her she had “cockcraving disorder”; (c) told her that her skinny arms were only good for putting behind her back when [she is] getting “hit from behind”; (d) told her she had “no tits”; and provided her with the unsolicited and absolutely disturbing advice that (e) you shouldn’t keep good pussy forever, you should keep it, enjoy it for a bit, and then throw it back into the sea.”
Read’s disgusting behavior towards the Indian – American Gupta didn’t end there. She says,
“Read paradoxically expressed his racist and bigoted worldview, when he praised the Ku Klux Klan to Plaintiff as a charity organization” and stated he would ‘never date an Indian’ because he didn’t want to ‘smell like curry.’ No human being, let alone a seventeen year old girl, should ever have to endure being spoken to by their supervisor in such a manner. But that is precisely the kind of conduct Plaintiff was forced to endure on a daily basis while volunteering to protect the community.”
Even in her off duty hours when not working as a volunteer firefighter and EMT, Gupta say Read continued the harassment, often sending sexually explicit and predatory text messages and social media comments. She felt she could never escape the harassment.
Unfortunately, Read’s inappropriate comments were not limited to Gupta. She says he had comments about other females on the department and on African Americans. According to her complaint,
- Defendant Read said volunteer Kathrine Janecko (“Ms. Janecko”) “never showered” and that “her pussy is probably like cream cheese”;
- Defendant Read said Ms. Janecko had “no tits”;
- Defendant Read said Ms. Janecko was “going to get raped out West” prior to Ms. Janecko leaving New Jersey for a forest fire deployment;
- Defendant Read said volunteer Taylor Schaefer (“Ms. Schaefer”) had “very nice legs” and asked Ms. Schaefer’s brother, firefighter Thomas Schaefer “did you hear me in your sister’s bedroom last night?”;
- Defendant Read called one female volunteer a “whale” and said “girls like her shouldn’t be allowed to dress in certain ways or wear tight clothing”;
- Defendant Read mocked a photograph of one female EMT paddle boarding in a bathing suit, saying “it’s no wonder that the picture was so zoomed out.”
- Defendant Read also made racist and racially discriminatory comments on many occasions. For example, Defendant Read often used the word “nigger” to refer to African Americans.
The derogatory comments about other female co-workers and racial comments are important because they demonstrate a hostile work environment.
Prior to filing suit, Gupta says she complained to the fire department’s deputy chief yet no investigation or disciplinary action was forthcoming.
After getting no help from the township, Priya Gupta filed suit. On December 3rd, the Franklin Township Fire Department and Chief Read filed an answer denying the charges.
In a chilling move, the fire department claims Gupta’s claims were made in bad faith and reserved the right to seek attorney’s fees against her. In another slap in the face they claim she was a poor firefighter and EMT although they alleged absolutely no facts in their answer to back any of those claims.
The township itself has not yet filed an answer but already appears to be distancing itself from Chief Read.
If Ms. Gupta’s allegations are even half true – and we have no reason to disbelieve anything she says – Chief Raymond Read should be terminated immediately and lose the ability to work in public service.
Sexual harassment claims are often a “he said – she said” but victim shaming, which the fire department did by threatening to sue her, represents a new low. Thus far neither the fire department nor Chief Read have alleged any facts to back up their threats and has not made any public statements. We wonder what the town is hiding or how deep the good ol’ mentality in Franklin Township goes.
We admire when victims of sexual harassment and racist bigotry step forward. Whether you work for a public entity such as a firefighter or in the private sector, everyone has the right to work in an environment free of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and racial bigotry. The only way equality can be achieved is if more folks like Priya Gupta step forward.
This is a case we will certainly follow. Luckily, social media and phone companies can usually locate text messages and social media posts even if they have been deleted. We can’t wait to see what is found on Chief Read’s cell phone and Facebook pages.
As we always note, the filing of a complaint does not mean that any of the defendants are considered guilty.
Were You Sexually Harassed as a Volunteer Firefighter?
Simply because you work as a volunteer doesn’t mean you aren’t protected under the law. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are a student intern, volunteer or paid worker.
If you have been subject to sexual harassment as a volunteer or at work, one of our knowledgeable attorneys at Whistleblower Law Group will evaluate your case free of charge. To learn more, visit our sexual harassment FAQ page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us today for a free consultation online, at 877.858.8018 or by email at [hidden email].