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Erie Firefighter to Get Her Job Back

The Erie firefighter who was terminated from the department after she tried to commit suicide by setting fire to clothes in a bathtub, has won her job back. Mary Wolski, 45, the department’s first female firefighter, set the fire hoping that the smoke would kill her.

Wolski was suffering from severe depression and was under medical treatment at the time of the blaze. On December 28, 2006 she attempted suicide in her father’s vacant home by putting cloths into a bath tub and setting it on fire. She then tried to douse the fire with water and went on to cut her wrist. Meanwhile her family members found her and called for help.

Wolski underwent medical treatment, was able to recoup, and was later found fit for duty. In 2007 the district attorney opted not to press criminal arson charges against her. Wolski then sought to return back to duty, but instead the department terminated her. 

She appealed her termination to the Civil Service Commission, which upheld the city’s decision. Wolski then filed suit under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) claiming stating that she was actually terminated by the city on account of her depression, and the city’s ungrounded fears that she might relapse into depression again.

Yesterday, an eight member Federal jury decided that that the city violated the ADA and Wolski’s rights. The city was ordered to pay back wages to Wolski and reinstate her with her seniority intact.

Assistant City Solicitor Gerald Villella said afterward that the city feared rehiring Wolski would impact the morale of the Fire Department, and that the City would consider filing an appeal.

More on the story.

Comments - Add Yours

  • L. Thomas

    Mr. Varone,
    Why wasn’t Ms. Wolski charged with arson?
    Thank you.

  • Curt Varone


    Great question. Prosecutors have the discretion to not charge people who may have technicially committed a crime but did so under extenuating circumstances. They also consider the possible defenses such a defendant may have, the burden of bringing a defendant to trial and the benefit to be gained by society by punishing a particular defendant. It would appear in this case they decided not to prosecute based on her mental state. The case would have come out differently in a different jurisdiction.

  • jc

    Opened class with this case last night. Hard to tell from the limited information within the article but some apparent stumbling on the City’s part. All were shocked that she, in remedy, did so well. Some were given the impression based on the quote in the article that this may have been an “activist” judge. What do others think?

    • Curt Varone


      Judges can no doubt influence a jury – but this was a jury verdict. Juries are inherently unpredictable… in fact if they were predictable we would not need them because all sides could agree going in which way the case would turn out.

      So while it could be that the judge was an “activist”, it could also be that the jury blew it, or her side had better attorneys, or the city’s attorneys had a bad day/game… or perhaps the case came out right.

      I think a good question for your class is to ask the unpopular question: why did the jury get it right? What evidence must have been presented that would cause normal, average folks who serve on a jury to rule the way they did?

      I am not suggesting that the jury did get it right – only that to be intellectually honest (as we should do in a classroom) we need to look objectively at what happened.

  • L Thomas

    Two huge mistakes here…#1 No charge of arson and #2 Terminated without good documentation. Expensive lesson.

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