A white lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the city Friday, saying he was removed from a position on the color guard because he is not black.
The lawsuit stems from a November 2017 incident ahead of the Memorial Mass to honor deceased members of the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black FDNY firefighters.
Lt. Daniel McWilliams was initially selected by the FDNY Ceremonial Unit to serve as a flag bearer in the color guard for the Memorial Mass, an "esteemed honor and privilege," the lawsuit states.
However, Regina Wilson, the president of the Vulcan Society, allegedly removed McWilliams on the day of the event because she specifically requested an all-black color guard, the lawsuit says.
"Are you removing me from the Color Guard because I am not Black?" McWilliams asked her, the lawsuit states.
"Yes, I am," Wilson allegedly responded. She then ordered him to perform "lesser duties" of escorting civilians and mustering uniformed offices into formation away from the Memorial Mass, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also contains a screenshot of a text exchange with Wilson, in which she writes, "Please know that l have asked Lt Williams to help in a different capacity for the ceremony today. l want to have (an) all black color guard and have asked one of my members to stand in."
McWilliams, a 29-year veteran of the FDNY, argues that he was discriminated against for his race and as a result "has suffered severe shame, emotional distress, and damage to his reputation," the suit states.
The suit targets Wilson as well as the FDNY, the city and unnamed Jane and John Does.
A complaint was filed on McWilliams' behalf to the FDNY's Equal Employment Opportunity Office, and the investigation concluded that there was "sufficient credible and corroborating evidence" that he was excluded from the color guard because of his race, the lawsuit states.
Nick Paolucci, spokesman for the New York City Law Department, said they will review the complaint and respond accordingly once they are served. FDNY spokesman Francis Gribbon similarly said the department will review and respond accordingly once it receives the complaint.
McWilliams was one of three firefighters pictured in an iconic image raising an American flag amid the rubble after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
CNN's Laura Ly contributed to this report.
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