ACLU Sues Fire District Over Sex-Discriminatory Firings
The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has today filed separate sex discrimination lawsuits on behalf of two female EMT/firefighters who allege that the Harmony Fire District in Glocester terminated them from their jobs because of concerns they had raised about differential treatment between male and female firefighters.
The lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Sonja Deyoe, are on behalf of Kimberly Perreault, who served as an EMT/firefighter for the Harmony Fire District for 12 years before being terminated in January 2015 for purportedly being “unhappy” with the fire department, and Linda Ferragamo, who had also worked at the department for over a decade before being fired.
Perreault’s firing, the lawsuit alleges, was in retaliation for comments she made at a Harmony Fire District Board meeting in October of 2014. At the meeting, Perreault, Ferragamo, and several male firefighters expressed concerns about women not getting fair treatment in the fire department. Among other things, they alleged that the fire district had become a “boys club” and that the women had no input, and in Ferragamo’s case, that her protective equipment had been taken away from her and “provided to a new male in the department which prevented her from dealing with some hazardous service calls.” Three months later, Perreault was summoned to a meeting with Fire District Chief Stuart Pearson where she was terminated. The only explanation that Pearson gave was that he believed she was unhappy working there. None of the male firefighters who had raised concerns were disciplined or terminated.
Shortly after Perreault’s termination, Ferragamo sent a letter to the Harmony Fire District Board of Directors complaining about the firing and expressing further concern about the way men, but not women, were being promoted in the department. A month later, Ferragamo was suspended for allegedly missing, without notice, three shifts over a two-month period. She was then terminated in August 2015. Ferragamo’s lawsuit alleges that male members of the department were not terminated or suspended for similar absences and that her suspension was an act of retaliation for the concerns she had raised about the department’s treatment of women at the October 2014 meeting and in her letter.
The lawsuit names as defendants the Fire District and Chief Stuart Pearson, and alleges violations of both state and federal laws barring sex discrimination and retaliation for reporting such discrimination. The suit seeks a court order reinstating the plaintiffs to the department, barring the department from any further violations of the cited anti-discrimination laws, and compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuits follow earlier administrative complaints the ACLU had filed with the RI Commission for Human Rights on behalf of the two women, but with today’s filings, the plaintiffs are exercising their right to have their cases heard in court.
Ms. Perreault said today: “I am moving forward with this case because I feel I need to stand up for my rights and prevent this from happening to others. Because of Chief Pearson’s actions, my standing within my professional community continues to be impacted. This is very bothersome because as a woman I have had to work very hard to achieve this.” Plaintiff Ferragamo added: “Harmony District Board members, you had the responsibility to look into our allegations and ensure that all members were treated fairly. Without your intervention, intimidation and bullying took place.”
ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown stated: “The discriminatory treatment that both women encountered is intolerable. The Harmony Fire District needs to learn that there is no place for this type of conduct in the 21st Century. We are hopeful that the Court will, upon reviewing all the evidence, make that lesson clear.”
ACLU attorney Deyoe added: “I am proud to be representing these two women who were terminated for asking if they were being equally treated because of their gender. Their termination was in retaliation for these complaints and we hope the courts will vindicate them.”
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