Terminated Atlanta Fire Recruit Alleges Sexual Harassment

A female recruit who was terminated by Atlanta Fire Rescue in June of 2023, has filed suit claiming she was sexually harassed by a 70-plus year-old fire instructor. Amber Ellison filed suit last week in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Ellison was one of 21 recruits who began the academy in August, 2022. Five of the 21 recruits were female. She claims her problems began in February, 2023 when a “new” instructor, a chief in his 70s who had been with the department for decades, took an interest in her. From the descriptions in the complaint, it appears the “new” instructor was teaching the EMS portion of the academy.

The complaint alleges the harassment included inappropriate comments and physical touching, some of which occurred in the presence of other students and instructors. Ellison also claims the chief contacted her on her personal cellphone. One of the alleged comments that seems to be gathering the most headlines is “I wanna put icing all over you.” The context of the comment is not made clear in the complaint, but it was reportedly made in front of the entire class and resulted in a burst of laughter.

Ellison reported her concerns to both the head of the training academy and city human resources. In both cases, she claims she was “scolded” for making the complaints, and the problems with the instructor continued.

She alleges that the harassment caused her to suffer a panic attack that prompted her to seek medical attention. She was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that caused her to need two weeks off. When she sought an additional six weeks of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act in June, 2023, she was terminated.

The complaint alleges one count of sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint does not allege an FMLA violation. The legal eagles will recall one must be employed for 12 months before an employee is eligible for FMLA protection. Here is a copy of the complaint.

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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