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R.I. Firefighters Lose Suit Over Pride Parade Assignment

R.I. Firefighters Lose Suit Over Pride Parade Assignment

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The firefighters objected to the parade assignment on religious grounds, but the state Supreme Court said they were required simply to perform a duty, not endorse the parade.

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The Rhode Island Supreme Court has thrown out decades-old lawsuits from two Providence firefighters who claimed their civil rights were violated when they were ordered to drive a truck in the city's gay pride parade.

The court, in a unanimous ruling written by Justice William Robinson, said the firefighters' appearance in the parade was "relatively anonymous" and did not indicate they condoned the parade's purpose, the Associated Press reports.

"The respondents' appearance in the parade, solely as members of the Providence Fire Department, did not constitute a form of expression on their part. Rather, it was simply the accomplishing of a task assigned to an engine company of the Providence Fire Department," Robinson wrote.

Firefighters Theodore Fabrizio and Stephen Deninno, both Roman Catholics who said they did not endorse the parade's message, drove the truck in the 2001 parade and filed their suits in 2004, the AP notes. Their suit named Buddy Cianci, who was the city's mayor in 2001, and James Rattigan, who was fire chief.

Fabrizio and Deninno were assigned to the parade because they worked with the engine company nearest the parade route. They asked for different duty, but their superiors refused. Their suits said claimed assignment violated their religious freedom, and the men said they were sexually harassed at the parade by attendees and later by colleagues because of the assignment.

During oral arguments in September, a lawyer for the city said firefighters were routinely assigned to parades for a variety of occasions, including religious holidays, and their participation did not signify an endorsement of the parade.

The slow pace of the case apparently frustrated many of the parties involved. In a footnote to his opinion, Justice Robinson wrote, "Through its ten long years of travel, this case has been removed to federal court, has been remanded by that court, and has survived several dispositive motions in state court -- including a partial motion for summary judgment by respondents, a motion for summary judgment on the merits by petitioners, and a motion to dismiss by petitioners. Somewhere along the way, the parties managed to undertake a great deal of discovery; among those whose depositions were taken were Mr. Fabrizio, Mr. Deninno, and Chief Rattigan."

Robinson also called the case "jarndycean," which appears to be a reference to the case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House. The fictional litigation, as the AP puts it, "drones on for so long and is so complicated that no one alive knows what it means."

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.