Jury awards $34,300 to firefighters over parade
Four months after walking out of court without a verdict, four San Diego firefighters suing the city for sexual harassment left the same courtroom yesterday with an outcome that pleased them even though the money isn't nearly what they initially sought.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for 2½ days and found that the firefighters, who were ordered to ride a fire engine in the 2007 gay pride parade, were sexually harassed by some participants and spectators.
Jurors awarded a total of $34,300 to John Ghiotto, Jason Hewitt, Alex Kane and Chad Allison.
“It was difficult,” said juror Kathy Meyer of San Diego. “I felt they were sexually harassed and I thought the department should have paid more attention and took these guys a little more seriously. I don't think they lied.”
Deputy city attorneys said they would appeal.
This is the second time the firefighters have gone to trial on the sexual harassment claim. A jury deadlocked in October. In that trial, the jury was asked to award each firefighter up to $1 million. The firefighters' attorney, Charles LiMandri, didn't request a specific figure in this trial.
“We're pleased,” LiMandri said. “The amounts were a little low, but quite frankly, in this economy, it's not surprising and not that disappointing. The jury has forced the city to acknowledge . . . that what happened to my clients is a violation of their rights.”
Allison said this was never about money.
“I just wanted to be vindicated,” he said. “I'm so happy that this ended in our favor. This was draining – having to go through two trials.”
Meyer said the highest figure debated among jurors was $10,000 for each firefighter. She hugged Ghiotto outside the courtroom.
“The money was never an issue for us,” Ghiotto said. “We should never have even had to go to court . . . we finally got the truth out, we prevailed and I'm happy.”
Nancy Chiquete, the jury forewoman and a San Diego resident, said the panel was not aware of how much money the firefighters had asked for in the first trial.
She also pointed out that each firefighter testified he wanted to make sure nothing similar would happen to others in the department.
“So, I think in that sense, hopefully they got what they wanted,” she said. “I felt truly like these four men were wronged.”
Each firefighter was awarded $5,000 for emotional distress. An additional $100 went to Allison to cover 10 $10 co-pays for appointments with a social worker. Ghiotto received an extra $14,200 because he lost his designation – and 5 percent of his pay – as a battalion medical officer when he switched stations after the parade after receiving anonymous threats.
Deputy City Attorneys Kristin Zlotnik and Don Shanahan, who defended the city in the two-week trial, were pleased the amount of damages was low, but disappointed with the verdict.
“I'm looking forward to writing the appeal,” Zlotnik said. “I feel very strongly that was not a hostile work environment, sexual harassment situation.”
Fire Chief Tracy Jarman, who testified at both trials, declined to comment yesterday through a spokesman.
Days after the parade, Jarman apologized to the firefighters and created an interim policy on parade participation. The policy was changed by the time of the 2008 gay pride event to say parades would be staffed with volunteers.
The firefighters, who remain with the department, said their supervisors ignored them when they said they did not want to be in the parade. A crew that had volunteered withdrew days beforehand.
The parade experience left the firefighters with headaches, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome and other stress-related symptoms, they said. They also testified that they were subjected to catcalls and saw barely clothed men simulate sex acts along the route on University Avenue in Hillcrest, which is home to a large gay population.
During the trial, Shanahan attacked the firefighters' credibility and pointed out the four were never touched or threatened during the parade. He said they were uncomfortable but not victims.
“It was hard getting called a liar and a bigot,” said Allison, who is trying to repair a relationship with a gay uncle who strongly opposed the lawsuit. “But it's what I had to do. I had to stand up for my rights.”
LiMandri said he isn't sure if he would ask the judge to order the city to pay his legal fees, which are at least $1.1 million.
Zlotnik said: “We'll fight that, too.”
The verdict, she said, “potentially affects the city's ability to have its employees perform assigned duties.”
Jurors were asked to answer nine questions and nine panel members had to agree on each one for the city to be held liable. They voted 12-0 only on the first and last questions.
The first question asked: “Were the plaintiffs subjected to unwanted harassing conduct because of their gender?” The last question asked: “What are the plaintiffs' damages?”
The question with the slimmest support was the second one, which was the question the jury in the first trial deadlocked on. It asked: “Was the harassment of the plaintiffs severe or pervasive?”
For that question, the jury voted 9-3 for each firefighter. The dissenters, all male, were the same each time. All three declined to comment.
Tony Manolatos: (619) 542-4559; firstname.lastname@example.org
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02-18-2009, 02:32 PM #1
Jury awards $34,300 to firefighters over parade
02-18-2009, 02:57 PM #2
- Join Date
- May 1999
- Here, There, Everywhere
It is great to see someone turn the tables on these "EEO-diversity at any cost" liberal motherf*ckers. Congrats to the brothers.
02-18-2009, 03:06 PM #3
FFFred- Something we can finally agree on.
I dont think fire apparatus needs to be presented in a "gay pride" event, but if I had to go, the freak show would have been fun to watch.
02-18-2009, 03:38 PM #4
- Join Date
- Nov 2008
Hopefully (but unlikely) administrations will start looking at EOE and diversity in a different manor. Remember you're different just like everyone else.
02-18-2009, 03:47 PM #5
The judgement should have been more!! More $$$$$$Stay Safe and Well Out There....
Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers
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