Florida Fire Department Settles Sex Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

Pregnancy Discrimination
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Florida Fire Rescue Department Settles Sex Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

Four Florida female firefighters have resolved their sex discrimination and retaliation claims against their employer, the Davie Fire Rescue Department, for more than $400,000 according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Three firefighters filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which referred the cases to the U.S. Department of Justice. The firefighters and department entered into a consent decree filed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

  • Lori Davis and Kristen Rohrer were denied light duty work during their first trimester of pregnancy pursuant to department policy. The fire department routinely granted light duty work to other firefighters for non-work related injuries.
  • Contrary to a doctor’s order the fire department denied Davis’ request for light duty during her first trimester of pregnancy in 2009. She worked a water hose during a fire in November of that year and miscarried the next day. After Davis complained about discriminatory treatment, the fire department responded by taking adverse actions against her designed to discourage similar complaints, according to a press release by the Department of Justice.
  • Rohrer became pregnant in 2010 and claimed she was humiliated by male co-workers, who ridiculed her use of a breast pump. She alleged male co-workers said her breaks were to “pull on her udders.”
  • Monica Santana alleged she suffered retaliation after complaining about gender discrimination. She claimed she lost a promotion after she questioned a request by a superior she complete a “reacclimation process” after completing light duty work. This process was not required of male co-workers. Santana also stated pornographic magazines were in common areas around firehouses and she was retaliated against after complaining about them.
  • Devon Sweet is named in the settlement but had not filed a legal action against the town. She was also denied a request to go on light duty during the first trimester of her pregnancy.

As part of the proposed settlement, which has yet to be approved by a federal judge, the department promises to “adopt new, non-discriminatory policies” (including a ban on light duty work during the first trimester of pregnancy) and agreed to follow the federal Title VII law by not discriminating against employees on the basis of sex or punishing those who complain about such discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes illegal employment discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion and prior complaints about discrimination or cooperation with an investigation into or litigation concerning discrimination.

The settlement was announced in February by the U.S. Department of Justice. Davie spokesman Phillip Holste said, “The Town of Davie is looking forward to closure and reaffirms our commitment through policies, actions and continuous training that demonstrate investment in our employees.” Rohrer’s attorney said his client is optimistic that the department will follow federal law and hopes the town will live up to the consent decree.

This case is an example of the crossroads of different types of illegal employment discrimination.

  • Though you may think a case involving a denied request for light duty work may violate disability law, pregnancy is not normally considered a disability (unless there are serious complications).
  • If one group of employees (in this case men) is allowed light duty work while others (in this case women) are not, that can be the basis of a discrimination claim, whether the difference is sex, color, race or age.
  • Frequently discrimination claims are linked to retaliation claims. If an employer is willing and able to violate one part of the law, it often will follow up with actions to punish and discourage discrimination complaint. The underlying discrimination claim may be dismissed in court while the employer could still be held liable for retaliation.

If you or a loved one is pregnant and may have been discriminated against at work, the attorneys at The Spiggle Firm can answer your questions, discuss the situation and give you options on how to proceed. Contact our office today.