NJ fire chief sexually harassed teen volunteer: lawsuit

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A New Jersey Fire Department Chief was wildly inappropriate with a teen volunteer commenting on her body — including her pubic hair — and continuing to hit on her even after she left for college, court papers allege.

Franklin Fire Department Chief Raymond Read allegedly carried out a campaign of sexual harassment against Priya Gupta in 2018, when she was just 16 and volunteering as an Emergency Services Technician in 2018, a Warren County Superior Court lawsuit from last month alleges.

Read, 45, asked Gupta if her pubic hair is “like a landing strip down there? Do you leave a little flavor saver?” the court papers allege.

Read told Gupta he could “teach you some skills with your tongue,” telling her she had “cock-craving disorder” and telling her her “skinny” arms were “only good for putting behind your back when you’re hitting it from behind,” the court documents allege.

Read also announced in front of the department when Gupta arrived that it was “my hot EMT day,” the court papers claim.

He allegedly continued his harassment in text messages with Gupta and would make dirty comments on her social media — which continued even when Gupta left for college, the court filing alleges.

Read allegedly would brazenly make these inappropriate comments to Gupta and other female volunteers in front of other workers. And two other lieutenants and a firefighter also sexually harassed her, the court papers claim.

He also allegedly made racist comments saying to another woman that he “would never date an Indian” and “didn’t want to smell like curry” from being with Gupta, the suit alleges, adding that Gupta was of Indian descent and took offense.

Read also allegedly praised the Ku Klux Klan as a “charity organization,” the suit alleges.

Read said to Gupta on social media after she left for college this summer “‘don’t tempt me, I miss you, god I miss you, the things I’d do to you if I came to see you,’” the suit charges.

On Aug. 24 of this year, Gupta told the Deputy Chief of the fire department of the alleged harassment, notifying him she was going to get legal advice. But her complaint wasn’t taken seriously, the suit claims.

Gupta had a brief fling with 26-year-old Lieutenant Vincent Fortunato when she was 17 after “Read and Fortunato used their power and authority as plaintiff’s employers to exploit plaintiff and deceive her to begin an illicit sexual relationship with defendant Fortunato,” the suit says.

Gupta — who is seeking unspecified damages — is also seeking for a judge to order anti-harassment, anti-discrimination and other sensitivity trainings for the defendants.

“As alleged in the complaint, Defendants operated a firehouse where its disturbed leaders promoted a culture rife with misogyny and bigotry,” Gupta’s lawyer, Peter Valenzano, said. “Ms. Gupta was consumed by an inferno of sexual harassment and discrimination – much of which occurred while she was still a minor.”

Read and Fortunato did not immediately return requests for comment. Lawyers for the town, fire department, Read and Fortunato did not immediately return requests for comment.

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