A firefighter with the Hamden, CT fire department is suing the town and his fire chief after working in a “hostile work environment because of his faith.”
Ray Pouncey, who recently filed a suit with the Federal court for discrimination in his work place, is a Jehovah’s Witness who has held a job as a firefighter and EMT in Connecticut for 18 years. Ray, who first shared his experiences of discrimination with Eyewitness News with a request for them to air his story, said his faith is very important to him, but that he has suffered through a lot of harassment at his work place for refusing to partake in activities that go against the tenets of his faith. “That’s the part that really hurts, I wasn’t doing anything to be disruptive I just wanted to exercise my faith as I am, a devout Jehovah’s Witness,” Pouncey said in a Fox31 online publication.
He recounted how his problems started back in 2000 when he refused to march with the other firefighters in a Memorial Day Parade. He said he received brutal backlash and damage to his car. “[There was] damage to my vehicle, slashed tires, scratched paint, transfers. I got flags in my interdepartmental mail slot,” Ray said. “I didn’t put it together until I was told by an officer that I’m a marked man because my religion in his opinion is abnormal and he felt I should have marched back in that parade,” he added.
Ray stressed that he has not only been discriminated by his fellow firefighters, but his superiors as well. He also pointed out that, though he respected and loved the flag and the country of United States, the doctrines of his faith restricts him from taking part in any activity that worships a man-made object or honors people other than God – like fallen soldiers.
“The men and women they intended to honor, they disrespected by prohibiting me, penalizing me for exercising the very freedom these men and women died for. That’s the hypocrisy,” Ray said.
Lamenting how the incessant discrimination at the firefighter’s work place has affected the quality of his life and sleep patterns, Ray said that he had initially tried to hold on strong with the hope that it was something that was eventually going to go away, but that when it continued, he first lodged a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
When asked to comment on the lawsuit, the Hamden Fire Department refused to speak on the issue, saying that “it would be a poor business practice to engage in a public conversation on an employee issue that is the subject of litigation. Suffice it to say that the Hamden Fire Department remains committed to the safety of our citizens and the well-being of our employees. Our most valuable resources are the well trained men and women of the Hamden Fire Department.”