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Local News

Lawsuit: Fellow firefighters targeted Mokena paramedic with homophobic remarks

A former employee of the Mokena Fire Protection District is suing the department, claiming that he was “targeted” with homophobic remarks and harassment.

In the lawsuit, Justin Bakker claimed that on three separate occasions in 2015 and 2018, he faced “continuous acts of sexual harassment and discrimination” from fellow Mokena fire employees.

On Dec. 22, 2015, according to the lawsuit, Bakker was discussing renting out his then-home when Mokena Assistant Chief Joseph Cirelli overheard the conversation. Cirelli told Bakker, “Well at least someone will be getting some action in the house. Well at least someone will be getting some action with a girl, at least,” according to the suit.

Bakker filed a complaint with his union representative about Cirelli’s comments. About a week later, the then-fire chief, Cirelli, a union representative and Bakker met, and the chief “guaranteed that the behavior demonstrated by A/C Cirelli was unacceptable by employees of the defendant and that it would never happen again,” according to the suit.

Then on July 4, 2018, while Bakker and other firefighters were lined up for Mokena’a Fourth of July parade, the group discussed an upcoming gay pride event in the village and shirts they would receive for cancer month. William Haas, the president of the district’s board of trustees, told Bakker, in front of the other firefighters, that he would get him a rainbow-colored shirt, and Bakker “would wear it with all kinds of pride,” according to the suit.

Bakker complained to his union president about Haas’ comments, according to the suit, and after he complained, Bakker saw Haas meet with Chief Howard Stephens, but no further action was taken.

On Aug. 21, 2018, Bakker and nine other firefighters were at a training session on units used to control fire alarm systems, at local retirement homes, according to the suit.

When the fire marshal teaching the class, Mark Sickles, explained that there was a sheet of paper on each unit stating how the fire department was to use it, Bakker asked if they could change the paper to different colors so it’d be easier to understand, according to the suit.

Sickles responded to Bakker, “How about we change the color to pink just for you? You like that color, don’t you?” according to the suit.

Several hours later, Bakker, the union president, Stephens and Sickles met, according to the suit, and Sickles apologized for making the comments to Bakker.

After the incident, Bakker told Stephens he believed he was being “targeted,” and the incidents were “repeatedly calling into question his sexual orientation,” according to the lawsuit, which made a point of stating Bakker is heterosexual.

Bakker claimed the work environment in the district became and remains hostile, and he left the district in fear for his safety and mental health.

Bakker, his attorney, Albert Ferolie, and Stephens all failed to return calls for comment.

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