Brittany McMahon wanted to be a firefighter, so she joined the Carlsbad fire department to complete her year-long probationary period in January, 2010. According to Ms. McMahon, she completed all tasks assigned to her and passed her physical tests, some of which she believes were made even harder for her than her male counterparts.
While living at the station on her work days, she was allegedly subjected to sexual harassment, such as being pulled toward a male firefighter by her belt loops and being offered assistance with showering. Online comments about female toiletries appearing in a unisex bathroom at a fire station added to the hostile work environment, Ms. McMahon claimed.
According to the lawsuit, around the end of her probationary period, Ms. McMahon was told she could either resign voluntarily or be terminated by the department, the latter of which would hurt her chances of finding a position elsewhere. Ms. McMahon felt she had no other choice than to resign. Her wrongful termination lawsuit, which is supposedly asking for about $2 million in damages, states that she was discriminated against because she was a woman trying to get into a fire department that has always been all men.
This case illustrates the different types of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that can occur. The other firefighters commenting about the station bathroom being filled with “tampons…hair accessories” and other female items is gender discrimination in which the complainant’s entire gender is being insulted. A sexually charged hostile work environment was created when the male firefighters allegedly made comments about helping her in the shower and grabbed her by her pants. It does not appear that Ms. McMahon was terminated because she turned down the sexual advances of a supervisor or co-worker, which would be considered quid pro quo sexual harassment. Rather, the complaint states she was forced to leave her job simply because she was a woman.
Many women serve as firefighters, both as volunteers and in paid positions. In a study done in the 1990s, 88 percent of women firefighters said they had been subjected to some type of sexual harassment or gender discrimination, and only one-third of those said they received a positive result when they complained about it. Almost the same number of women who complained said they were retaliated against instead.
Does this mean women should stop trying to be firefighters? No, it does not. As long as she is able to carry out the duties required of her without putting her life or the lives of others in jeopardy, a woman should be allowed to hold the same position as a man in any field. If you have been discriminated against because of your gender, male or female, or have been sexually harassed on the job, it is important to contact a Kentucky employment attorney to discuss what your rights are and what action should be taken to remedy the situation. The attorneys at Miller & Falkner are experienced in handling wrongful termination, sexual harassment and other employment discrimination cases, and look forward to speaking with you.
Carlsbad’s first female firefighter to sue city; U-T San Diego News; Hailey Persinger; January 24, 2012
Issues Concerning Women & Firefighting: Sexual Harassment Survey: Women Firefighters’ Experiences; Women in Fire & Emergency Services