Firefighters Assert Claims for Sexual Harassment, Gender Discrimination

A tiny percentage of firefighters in the United States are women. Only 37 women serve among New York City’s more than 10,000 firefighters, which at about one-third of one percent is one of the lowest rates in the country. Nationally, women account for about 3.4 percent of firefighters, or about one in 30. Those numbers are growing, but unfortunately gender discrimination and sexual harassment continue to be a problem. A firefighter in Long Island recently won a claim against her town’s fire department, and other firefighters around the country are asserting their rights under federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) awarded $60,000 in damages to a woman who complained of sexual harassment by her fellow firefighters. Lozada v. Elmont Fire Dept. Truck Co. #1, Nos. 10146997 & 10147297, order (N.Y. DHR, Jul. 22, 2014). The complainant began working as a volunteer firefighter in 2006. Out of about 30 firefighters in the department, only two were women, and neither held officer positions. She described the firehouse environment as a “boys’ club” or “fraternity,” id. at 3, a description that is common to this type of case. A lieutenant regularly referred to her as “Badonkadonk,” which was “a direct reference to her posterior.” Id. He would make unwelcome physical contact with her, including putting his arms around her and slapping her on the rear, and he allegedly assaulted her in 2007. She did not make a complaint at the time, and the harassment continued. Others in the department subjected her to both racial and sexual harassment.

She filed two complaints against the department in 2011. The DHR ruled in her favor on her hostile work environment claim in July 2014 but found that she had not proven her claims of retaliation or discrimination based on race or familial status. The DHR could not award the complainant back pay, since she worked as a volunteer, but it did award her $60,000 for emotional distress. It also fined the respondent $25,000, payable to the state.

A pending federal lawsuit in Florida makes similar allegations of hostile work environment and retaliation. Buckner v. Consol. City of Jacksonville, et al, No. 3:14-cv-00901, complaint (M.D. Fla., Jul. 29, 2014). The plaintiff began working for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department as a firefighter in 2004. She was promoted to Engineer in 2008 and to Lieutenant in 2011. She complained about a hostile work environment in June 2012, claiming that other firefighters displayed explicit pornographic materials in the firehouse and behaved in an inappropriate sexual manner towards her.

The plaintiff alleges in her lawsuit that she was subjected to retaliation after making this complaint, and that the harassment got worse. Another lieutenant, for example, allegedly made sexually explicit comments directly to the plaintiff about the plaintiff’s teenage daughter. The lawsuit alleges discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Florida law.

In California, seven current and former female U.S. Forest Service firefighters have filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture. They are alleging that male co-workers subjected them to harassment, discrimination, and sexual abuse on the job, and that officials knew about these alleged actions and failed to act.

The sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of workers in the greater New York City area in claims for hostile work environment, harassment, and discrimination under municipal, state, and federal law. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled advocate.

More Blog Posts:

Retail Employee’s Lawsuit Claims Store Management Ignored Sexual Harassment by Customers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 8, 2014
Researchers Routinely Face Sexual Harassment While Doing Fieldwork, According to Study, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 10, 2014
McDonald’s Sued for Alleged Sexual Harassment, Race Discrimination at Queens Location, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 21, 2014

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