Connecticut firefighter says he was harassed because of religion

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HAMDEN, Conn. — A Connecticut firefighter said he was discriminated while doing his job and is now suing the town and the fire chief.

Ray Pouncey said his faith is extremely important to him, but said he was harassed because of his religion.

He is a Jehova’s Witness, and is also a firefighter and EMT in the town of Hamden, a job he has held for 18 years.

He said for nearly his entire career he’s been dealing with a “hostile work environment because of his faith.”

Pouncey spoke first to Eyewitness News to share his story.

“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.

Ever since he refused to march in a Memorial Day parade in 2000, he said he has received brutal backlash.

“Damage to my vehicle, slashed tires, scratched paint, transfers. I got flags in my interdepartmental mail slot,” Pouncey said.

He said he has dealt with the alleged harassment by not just his co-workers but also his superiors.

“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,” Pouncey said.

While he said he respects the flag and the country, he said because of his religion he can’t be part of anything that worships a man-made object, like the American Flag or an event that honors someone 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,” Pouncey said.

Over the years, the firefighter said he feels he’s been targeted and taunted because of his religious beliefs.

He said he tried to be patient, thinking it would eventually go away and said when it didn’t he first filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

Then, he eventually filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year and said it has affected his health, his sleep patterns and the camaraderie.

“This job with public safety, there is no room for bias, no room for discrimination, harassment. Its life safety when you think about it,” Pouncey said.

The Hamden Fire Department said in a statement “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.”

 

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