California Fire District Settles Gender Discrimination Suit With Volunteer for $535K

The Graton Fire Protection District has agreed to settle the gender discrimination claims of a former female firefighter for $535,000. Sapphire Alvarez filed suit claiming she was passed over for promotion, ostracized by her colleagues and unfairly targeted for discipline.

The Press Democrat quoted for Alvarez’s complaint as alleging that male firefighters had been:

  • refusing to ride on an engine if she were onboard, leaving a room when she entered, openly denigrating her skills, spreading malicious rumors to the effect that she could not be trusted on the ground, refusing to work overnight shifts if she was signed up for that shift, and occasionally screaming at her.

The department countered that Alvarez earned a reputation for be “lazy” and “unreliable.” The Press Democrat quoted Fire Chief Bill Bullard as saying:

  • Everything that she was subject to, every other member of the department was subject to the same standards.
  • I’m proud that female firefighters are inviting their friends to volunteer here.
  • To me, that’s the biggest recruitment tool we have.
  • If we weren’t open to all folks working here, that wouldn’t be happening.
  • I absolutely would have liked to see her continue on in the department.
  • I think her expectations of what she was looking for wasn’t something we could meet.

The fire district will pay $285,000 of the settlement with the remainder being paid by the district’s insurer. Alvarez has agreed to resign from the department as part of the settlement. More on the settlement.

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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