Terminated Female Firefighters Win One, Lose One

Two cases decided last week involved similar fact patterns where probationary female firefighters were let go at the end of their probationary period, with different results. In Ohio, Sierra Adebisi was fired by the Toledo Fire Department on what was supposed to be her graduation day, August 23, 2019.

Adebisi was not given a reason for her dismissal beyond “overall unacceptable performance in the academy.” She sought to appeal her termination with the Civil Service Commission. However, the commission concluded that as a probationary employee she lacked a right to appeal.

Adebisi appealed that decision to the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, who agreed with the Civil Service Commission. She then appealed to Ohio’s Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeals. On June 4, 2021 the court concluded “she had no right to appeal her termination,” and ruled in favor of the city. To add insult to injury, the court assessed her the costs of the appeal. Here is a copy of the decision:

In Florida, Hollywood firefighter Cindy Naraine was fired weeks before her probationary period was to end on January 26, 2020. As was the case in Toledo, Naraine was not given a reason for her termination beyond the chief “did not feel that she was a good fit for the agency.”

Naraine, who identified herself in the complaint as a “Black, Non-Hispanic female”, filed suit alleging race, national origin, and gender discrimination, as well as retaliation. The city moved to dismiss her claims. On June 3, 2021, a federal magistrate concluded that the case can proceed as Naraine has sufficiently alleged discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting. Under McDonnell Douglas:

  • The plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing membership in a protected class, that he/she is otherwise qualified for the position, and that despite being qualified he/she has been denied the position.
  • The burden then shifts to the employer to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions.
  • If the employer is successful in showing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions, the plaintiff must prove that the employer’s stated reason is a pretext for discrimination.

The court concluded that Naraine adequately alleged a prima facie case. As such it would in inappropriate for the court to dismiss her claims at this juncture. Here is a copy of the decision:

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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