LINDEN, NJ — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found no reason to look any further into accusations of discrimination on the part of fire Chief Joseph Dooley against black firefighters, City Council President Michele Yamakitis announced at the council’s April 16 meeting.
“The city did send a report over and an investigation, which has returned that there’s no need for a hearing and that is from the federal level,” she said.
Many residents attended the meeting in support of firefighters Mark Bullock and Joseph Braxton, who have said Dooley created “a racist culture” in the department, including using derogatory terms for African Americans.
The accusations against Dooley were first made public about seven months ago. Bullock and Braxton, who are both black, filed formal complaints against Dooley, who is white, saying the chief used the N-word in front of them in the Linden Firehouse.
Dooley, who was sworn in as fire chief in September 2015, has declined to address those accusations when previously asked about them by LocalSource.
The revelation of the finding comes about a month after about 75 people rallied outside City Hall calling for Dooley to resign.
Jennifer Brook, sister of 10th Ward Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey, brought a sign to the April 16 council meeting that read “stop racism,” and raised it when the Fire Department budget was introduced, but was told signs are not permitted during meetings by Yamakitis.
Fourth Ward resident Donald Givens was the first to acknowledge the “dark cloud that is hanging over Linden.” He asked the firefighters in attendance to stand and said: “These are men who will go into your house to save your family and risk their lives for any one of you. I’m ashamed of every one of you because they have been discriminated against in the worst way.”
Yamakitis announced the results of the EEOC investigation after Givens finished his comments.
Gary Tinney, Northeast regional director for the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, expressed his disappointment with the LFD and said that the EEOC investigation is just the start of the complaint.
“This is my first time in Linden and everything around here is beautiful, but if you allow this type of behavior and this chief to behave the way he has been behaving, it’s going to get worse and it’s going to come to a point where someone is really going to get hurt,” Tinney said.
“Everything that we dealt with 30 and 40 years ago, we’re seeing an uprise,” he said, adding that the IABPFF will be investigating the issue and likely file a complaint.
John Principato, a former mayoral candidate who worked as a fire lieutenant in Linden for 25 years, said if he had used the same language Dooley allegedly did in the firehouse, he would have been immediately fired. Principato criticized how Mayor Derek Armstead has handled the situation, saying Dooley should have been placed on leave immediately.
After he refused to stop speaking when his allotted three-minutes ended, Principato was escorted out of the meeting by two officers, cheered on by other attendees.
Before the governing body gave closing comments, municipal attorney Daniel Antonelli reminded council members that they are constrained from commenting publicly on personnel matters and that one of the firefighters has filed a notice of claim, which puts the city on notice of a potential lawsuit.
“So, anything you say here could be used against you in a subsequent lawsuit so I just want to remind members of council and the mayor to be mindful of your comments,” Antonelli said.
Hickey was the first to comment saying that “this isn’t just about the N-word, this is about women and gays and a lot of issues that shouldn’t be happening today, and I can’t imagine, for the life of me, what training or educational seminars that the firemen of our city could possibly receive that the N-word would be involved.”
Armstead, who Bullock alleged “brushed off” the accusations when he spoke to the mayor about them, also spoke at the meeting.
“I just want to acknowledge the presence of the firefighters that came out in the support of their brother,” the mayor said. ”I do believe that when you feel an injustice has occurred that you are to come in defense of your comrades. That is honorable and noble but I do feel as though I’d like to speak with you gentlemen.”
“I do feel that I owe you as mayor to sit down and discuss this story in its entirety. I’m the first African American mayor in this city and it’s tough to be the first. I’ve gone through some things that some of you aren’t aware of but there’s a story here. My doors are open,” he continued.
The EEOC finding came after a rally March 23, when demonstrators called for Dooley’s resignation, chanting “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
According to Bullock’s complaint, which he provided to LocalSource, he alleges that the chief discriminated against him in connection to his race, stating: “Specifically, on Aug. 8, 2018, Chief Joseph Dooley received allegations that another firefighter referred to me using the unwelcome racially offensive word N*****. In response, the chief made statements where he then used the word N***** three times during the course of his statement to me. I was offended.”
Regarding Bullock’s complaint, Dooley, who is white, told LocalSource on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, “That is being investigated appropriately and I won’t make any comment on that since it is an ongoing investigation.”