ACLU Sues RI Fire District For Gender Discrimination

Two Rhode Island firefighters supported by the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union are suing their former fire department and fire chief for sex discrimination.

Kimberly Perreault and Linda Ferragamo claim that they were terminated from the Harmony Fire District after they spoke out about unfair conditions for female firefighters. Both women served as volunteer firefighters in Harmony for between 12 and 15 years.

According to separate lawsuits filed today in federal court in Providence by ACLU cooperating attorney Sonja L. Deyoe:

  • On October 23, 2014, at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Harmony Fire District Board, [both Perreault and Ferragamo], as well as several male coworkers, expressed their concern that women “volunteer” firefighters were not being treated on the same level as the men “volunteer” firefighters.
  • The Moderator of the October 23. 2014 meeting announced that he would meet with any members of the volunteer crew who wished to discuss the matter further.
  • Despite [Perreault]’s efforts to follow up, [she] was given no opportunity to meet with the Moderator or the District Board.
  • On January 13, 2015, [Perreault was] terminated by [Fire Chief Stuart] Pearson. The only explanation [Chief] Pearson provided was that he believed that … Perreault was unhappy with the Department.
  • On February 19, 2015, [Ferragamo] drafted and sent a letter to the Harmony Fire District Board of Directors in which she indicated her surprise that two men were promoted in the District in the last year but no women were promoted despite the amount of experience the women had for the jobs.
  • In addition, [Ferragamo] complained about being denied an opportunity to speak with the moderator of the district board as was promised at the October 23, 2014 meeting, about Kim Perrault not receiving a termination letter, or being giving reasons for her termination, or due process prior to her termination, further Plaintiff requested that Kimberly Perreault be reinstated until she received these items because women of the District should be able to voice concerns about the department without retaliation.
  • [Ferragamo] was suspended on March 23, 2015 after it was alleged that [she] was a no call no show for duty nights she had signed up for on February 5, 2015, February 8, 2015, and March 12, 2015.
  • Male members of the District who had similar no call no shows and were not terminated or suspended.
  • On August 6, 2015, after this period of unmerited suspension, [Ferragamo] was terminated from her position by the Defendant Pearson because of her supposed unhappiness with the Department.

The suits allege gender discrimination and retaliation under the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act, the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Perreault and Ferragamo seek reinstatement to the department, damages, attorneys fees and injunctions prohibiting further violations of employment laws.

Here are copies of both complaints:

ferragamo-v-harmony

perreault-v-harmony

UPDATE: Here is a video on the case from last year:

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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