Ohio Firefighter Settles Discrimination Suit Over Tattoo

A female firefighter who claimed she was being discriminated against by being ordered to cover her tattoos has reached a settlement with her department.

Firefighter Linda Goetz sued the city of Forest Park claiming that she was being unlawfully singled out to cover her tattoos while male employees and even an African American female employee were not.

The tattoos in question were a dragonfly tattoo on the left side of her neck, a dandelion tattoo on the right side of her neck, a cross on the inner side of her left bicep, lightning bolt on the upper inner portion of her right forearm and Indian feathers on her right foot.

Goetz alleged that in 2010 she was ordered to wear turtlenecks to cover her neck tattoos, and on one occasion had to be hospitalized for heat exhaustion in 100-degree heat [Note: I’ll bet that allegation plays better to civilians than it does to firefighters…].

When she refused to cover her tattoos, she was disciplined, prompting her suit in Federal court.

US District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett recently issued a split decision on the City’s motion for summary judgment, ruling in favor of the fire department on allegations of direct sex or race discrimination, but finding there to be a triable question of fact as to whether the disciplining of Goetz was merely a pretext for sex or race discrimination.

Judge Barrett concluded that under the pretext theory, it should be up to a jury to decide if other employees should have been disciplined for their tattoos and if so, whether the basis for not disciplining them was their sex or race.

Here is a copy of the ruling, which undoubtedly played a role in the parties reaching a settlement.  Goetz v City of Forest Park MSJ

The settlement makes those issues moot. The terms of the settlement have not been released.

More on the story.

Here is a copy of the original complaint. Goetz v City of Forest Park

October 25, 2012: followup story about the former Forest Park fire chief who was involved with the Goetz case:   http://www.journal-news.com/news/news/administrator-unaware-of-lawsuit-involving-interim/nSn2L/

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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