Chicago Non-Conforming Gender Harassment Suit to Proceed

A lawsuit filed by a Chicago firefighter who claims he was sexually harassed and discriminated against by the department and a female deputy chief, will continue following a refusal by the trial judge to dismiss the city from the action. James Mundo filed suit last year claiming that the city and a chief officer discriminated against him in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Monell), and the Illinois Gender Violence Act.

Mundo, who is identified in the federal court ruling as a “gay and gender-nonconforming man,” contends he was driven out of the firehouse and into staff positions within the fire department because the stations are controlled “by a dominant ‘heterosexual mentality’ to which other male firefighters were expected to conform.” He has been off on medical leave since 2018.

Quoting from the ruling:

  • In January 2008, Mundo was transferred to the Internal Affairs Division, where he worked until January 2013.
  • Mundo then was assigned to work in the Labor Relations Division, under the direct supervision of [the] Deputy Chief of Administrative Services.
  • [The DC], a heterosexual female, shared the dominant mentality that Mundo had witnessed at the firehouse and expected all male employees to conform to her vision of a heterosexual, masculine firefighter.
  • But Mundo, whom [the DC] knew to be gay and married to another man, did not conform to the stereotype that [the DC] and others in the CFD preferred.
  • As a result, [the DC] believed that Mundo needed to be “straightened out” to align with her preferred stereotype.
  • To achieve that goal, [the DC] considered it acceptable to treat Mundo differently than other male CFD employees on account of his sexual orientation and gender non-conformity.
  • Between 2016 and 2018, [the DC] subjected Mundo to dozens of acts of sexual harassment and discrimination.

The city sought to have the Monell claims dismissed arguing that even if Mundo could prove his case, the deputy chief was not carrying out an established city policy, which Monell requires. The city further argued that if the deputy chief did indeed engage in the conduct as alleged, she would have been violating the city’s sexual harassment policies.

In refusing to grant the city’s request, the court acknowledged that Monell claims require that an official policy of the city lead to an injury.  However, the court said that unofficial policies that become widespread practices can also give rise to Monell liability. In this case Mundo’s allegations of widespread discrimination against non-heterosexual males was sufficient for the case to proceed further.

The court also dispensed with the city’s argument that a municipality could not be a “person” under the Illinois Gender Violence Act. Here is a copy of the decision.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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