Memphis Fire Sued for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

A Memphis firefighter who was terminated in 2013, has filed suit in federal court alleging gender and disability discrimination. Latundra Shinault claims that various officers in the Memphis Fire Department “made sexual comments towards her … belittling her” and “demonstrated a great dislike towards” her.

Shinault filed the action pro se on October 31, 2014 after a Tennessee Human Rights Commission investigation was unable to substantiate her claims, and issued her a “right to sue” letter.

According to the complaint, Shinault claims in 2012 she was being “singled out and detailed more than normal”.

  • Plaintiff had a conversation with Lieutenant Hankins where she requested that he ask Chief Lumpkin to look over the T.O. schedule to make sure it was correct.
  • Lieutenant Hankins informed Plaintiff that Chief Lumpkin’s response was “Tell Pvt. Shinault , she don’t run my damn T.O.” and told him not to contact him anymore with that “bull shit” asking him about Plaintiffs” damn” T.O., since PVT Shinault don’t run shit”.
  • On or around April 2012, Lt. Hankins, began to display an attitude towards Plaintiff simply and solely because she continued to ask about the T.O issue especially since Plaintiff reasonably believed and perceived that she was still being detailed as if her schedule had and error.
  • Lieutenant Hankins continued to demonstrate a great dislike towards Plaintiff and resentment for asking the same repeated question regarding the T.O., when he yelled saying “if that’s what the chief has on the T.O. then that’s where you’ll be going” and with even more anger, he yelled “so stop asking!”

Shinault also claims while detailed to Station 34 she was required to work with a Lt. Edwards, with whom she felt uncomfortable due to a prior incident that occurred in 2008. She claims that while working with Lt. Edwards, she was “humiliated” at a meeting that “was supposed to be about Plaintiff having trouble finding the hospital while transporting a patient” but turned into a “a hostile work environment and harassment where two non-management employees were present, allowed to interject and laugh and joke about Plaintiff.”

In September, 2012, Plaintiff suffered a knee injury and was off until January 2013, when she was again detailed to Station 34 to work with Lt. Edwards.

  • Plaintiff immediately went to Lt. Hankins, after she saw the T.O. (Schedule) with her name on there to work at station 34, and specifically she told him that she was afraid to work under Lt. Edwards’ s supervision and asked him if he could do something be done so she wouldn’t have to be subjected to a possible hostile work environment.
  • Hankins entered the room and started to yell at Plaintiff and stated: “I’m tired of you, and you’re getting on my nerves, why don’t you just go where you’re told!”
  • Plaintiff in tears told him she was afraid something may happen if she work [sic] under Lt. Edwards’ s supervision.
  • Hankins with a very angry voice commented and told Plaintiff, “I’m going to call the Chief and have him to come over and talk to you, because he already cursed me out and told me to stop calling about you trying to run his damn T.O.”
  • Chief Lumpkin came to the station and told me Plaintiff that she had to go to station 34.
  • [Shinault then] called the union, and … was later informed … “they changed the T.O. and she will be detailed to Unit 10.”
  • After the change in the work schedule, Plaintiff experienced hostility from Lt. Hankins since whenever she asked him anything he always responded loudly and aggressively.

The complaint details an escalation in tensions that included Lt. Hankins prohibiting her from talking to a chief about a counseling memo she received; threats of further disciplinary action for insubordination; and threats of physical violence. Shinault then sought EAP assistance which required hospitalization and psychotherapy. She also filed an initial charge of discrimination with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.

While still off on medical leave in December, 2013 Shinault was terminated for “job abandonment”, whereupon she filed a second complaint with the THRC for retaliation.

The suit seeks:

  • Reinstatement of all sick and annual leave she exhausted due to the harassment
  • $75,000 in lost wages
  • Reinstatement to a non-line position
  • $150,000 for “two years salary and pension”
  • A line of duty disability pension
  • $300,000 for emotional distress
  • Appointment of an external entity to “monitor policies and procedures”

Here is a copy of the complaint: Shinault v Memphis

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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