Orange Twp. loses discrimination suit
A Franklin County Common Pleas jury this week awarded a former Orange Township firefighter $1.7 million after finding she was a victim of sexual discrimination.
Rachel Peters, a firefighter in the township for less than a year, filed suit alleging she was the victim of sexual harassment during her time with the department and was fired because of her gender.
The jury, in a 7–1 vote, agreed and ordered the township to pay $1.67 million to Peters for lost wages and “emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience and mental anguish.” The jury also returned a judgment of $75,000 against her immediate supervisor, who recommended her termination.
“It’s kind of unfortunate because there are really no winners here,” Peters’ attorney, Dan Mordarski said. “This woman just wanted to have her career.”
Peters, hired in January 2007, was the only female firefighter in the township at the time. She alleged she repeatedly was harassed by a fellow firefighter, according to court documents. She was fired less than a year later, just weeks before her probationary period ended.
The male firefighter allegedly used the woman’s restroom at the fire station on multiple occasions, sometimes with the door open. Peters claims he transferred stations in an effort to sleep with her and moved his sleeping quarters to the room next to hers. She also alleges he tampered with her personal items, smelled her hair and frequently commented on her appearance.
Peters claimed she informed her supervisors of the behavior, which they did nothing to stop; instead they retaliated by treating her differently than other firefighters.
John Latchney, an attorney representing the township in the case, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The case is still not finalized. By April, a judge is expected to rule on whether it’s safe for Peters to return to the fire department.
“She desperately wants to be a firefighter,” Mordarski said. “But there’s a lot of concerns about whether she can do that there and be safe.”
If the judge finds it is safe for Peters to return to the fire department, the $779,702 judgment for lost future wages will not be awarded to her.
The township spent $77,000 in relation to the case, $11,000 of which was used for an internal investigation.
According to Mordarski, the township could have avoided incurring any costs at all. His client, who dreamed of being a firefighter since a young age, simply wanted her job back, he said.
“You can’t do this to women,” he said. “In our society, we kind of accept that women can be doctors and lawyers. But when it comes to firefighters, there’s still people that say, ‘That’s not for women.’”
Court records said Peters was allowed to file the case in Franklin County because one of the defendants lives there.