Jury Awards Palm Beach County Fire Recruit $750k for Gender Discrimination

A former Palm Beach County firefighter recruit who was forced to resign in 2015, was awarded $750,000 by a jury who concluded she had been discriminated against on account of her gender. Sharon Wilson started the Palm Beach County fire academy in April, 2015. At the time she was 43 years old.

During the second week of the academy, Wilson fractured her wrist. Thereafter, she was written up for a series of seemly minor infractions, including:

  • “not reporting her wrist injury” despite the fact the officer who wrote her up “confirmed the injury had been reported”
  • “use of cellphone while in the academy” despite being on her lunch break that was considered to be an “authorized break”
  • “not bringing her driver’s license to work” one day despite not being told beforehand to bring the license

Thereafter Wilson was told she needed to resign immediately, and that if she did, she would have the opportunity to reapply and be rehired. She reluctantly submitted her resignation, but was not subsequently rehired.

In 2016, Wilson filed suit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court alleging discrimination and retaliation because of her disability (wrist), age, and gender. As the case made its way through the court system the disability claim was dropped, and it proceeded on the gender and age discrimination theories. On December 6, 2021 the jury found in favor of Wilson on the gender discrimination claim, awarding her $243,372 for actual damages and $500,000 for “emotional pain, mental anguish, inconvenience and loss of reputation.” The jury rejected the age discrimination claim.

Here is a copy of the jury verdict form.

Here is a copy of the original complaint:

More on the story.

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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