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Video Evidence Not Enough in Austin Sex Harassment Case

A Texas jury has ruled in favor of the Austin Fire Department in a gender discrimination case brought by a female firefighter. Firefighter Nona Allen claimed she was subjected to a hostile work environment, and produced several videos to support her case. Here is one of them:

The jury rendered their verdict on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 and according to one web source concluded Allen had been harassed, and that the city knew about the harassment, but disagreed that the harassment was so severe that it affected the terms and conditions of her employment.

The verdict is unusual in that most cases of sexual harassment in the fire service that are decided by a jury, result in a verdict in favor of the women. My database (while not scientific nor robust enought to be authoritative at this point) has 61 sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuits, 13 of which went to a jury trial. In 11 of the 13, the women prevailed for a win rate of 85%. The vast majority of the cases that did not go to trial were settled.

After the verdict, Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr released a statement saying "We're anxious to move forward and put this situation behind us. The Austin Fire Department continues to be committed to a respectful, courteous workplace where all of our employees feel valued."

Here is another of the evidentiary videos:

Comments - Add Yours

  • Bob Avsec

    Absolutely stunning! How in the world could the jury no see the inequity between what male firefighters had–and enjoyed–in the workplace, and what FF Allen did not? How could she feel anything more than a “second-class” status? If that doesn’t affect morale and attitude I don’t know what does.

  • Curt Varone

    Thanks Bob
    A friend of mine who is a seasoned Federal wildland firefighter – commented on Facebook that she figured the Austin Fire Department did not hire a marching band to greet her on her first day!
    Like most cases – I am sure there is more to the story than what gets out. From what I read there was some sort of mis-communication about storing furniture in the women’s locker rooms. Apparently there were some fire stations that had no women assiged that used the women’s locker rooms as storage areas, so the department issued a rule prohibiting any furniture being stored there. The idea behind the rule was to help the women by not allowing the rooms to be used to store un-used items.
    However, it would appear that the rule was misapplied in Allen’s case. Having said that, do we really need to involve the EEO folks and our court systems to resolve these types of issues? It just further polarizes the workplace.

  • Jason SCFFMedic

    Did she try going through the chain of command to change things? If so I do not blame her at all for highlighting the discrepencies. It’s crazy to think in this day and age that woman and ppl of different color and race are subject to hazing and harrassment. Time the leaders of these dept’s look at themselves and see what they can do to change the way their dept. is ran.

  • Curt Varone

    That is a great point and probably the most important question in my mind. If she did use the chain of command, and ran into a gender/racial stone wall, the EEO option is there address the problem. Why didn’t it end there with EEO – and why did it end up in court? There’s got to be more to the story.