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Anthony Harper, NYC Firefighter, Says He Was Mistreated Because He's Vegetarian

By Dan Fastenberg,
November 2012

Employees have been victims of all kinds of discrimination -- sex, race, religion, age, weight. But a New York City firefighter, Anthony Harper, is alleging that he was ostracized by his co-workers because of his diet: He's a vegetarian.

Harper switched to a meat-free diet two years ago and began refusing to chip in for the communal meals at the Greenpoint, Brooklyn, firehouse, reports the New York Post . Soon after his co-workers began harassing him verbally and physically, he claims. He also found his assignments reduced, according to a complaint he filed with the New York Fire Department:

"It's a culture where you eat what everybody else eats," the eight-year FDNY veteran told the Post, "and if it's not what you are accustomed to -- and you want to slim down and lose weight and won't eat it -- well, it leads to problems."

He made the decision to become a vegetarian (and give up cigars) when he was on the verge of becoming a first-time father and wanted to improve his health. "I was fat," he said. His co-workers began teasing him, he said, then their reactions quickly degenerated into physical confrontations, including a fellow firefighter head-butting him.

When he complained, he said, he was reassigned to an administrative function. The only tasks he's now given are to "push buttons on a computer to print out medical forms," he told the Post.

A New York Fire Department Department spokesman dismissed Harper's claims, calling them "nonsense."

"Firehouses across the city have individuals who are vegetarians or who have special diets -- i.e., food allergies, etc. -- and they are accommodated all the time," FDNY spokesman Jim Long told the Post.

Currently, Harper says, he's waiting to hear back about whether he'll be promoted to lieutenant as well as for a hearing date on his complaint.

In 2009, a Wall Street trader claimed that his refusal to eat meat actually led to his firing. Ryan Pacifico filed a discrimination lawsuit charging that his co-workers and boss taunted him as a "homo"  because he wouldn't eat steak with them:

Pacifico said he never considered changing his diet to fit in with his colleagues. "The concept of eating animals just blows my mind," he told The New York Daily News.

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