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Orland firefighter alleges pattern of harassment

Updated: April 2, 2013 6:34AM



A longtime female firefighter with the Orland Fire Protection District alleges in a lawsuit that she was routinely subjected to derogatory and sexually-charged comments and held to more stringent standards of conduct than her male counterparts.

Lt. Terri Simone-Lorenz alleges she endured “hostile” working conditions “on a continuing and ongoing basis” since being hired as a firefighter/paramedic by the district in May 1994. She was promoted to lieutenant in June 2009.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, amends a complaint Simone-Lorenz lodged against the district last October, accusing the district and certain command officers of maintaining a hostile work environment in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act. The new complaint adds defendants and allegations of misconduct, Dana Kurtz, the attorney representing Simone-Lorenz, said in an email.

The firefighter previously filed complaints with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The IDHR dismissed her claim last July, and the EEOC last December issued a notice of right to sue to Simone-Lorenz.

Along with the fire district, defendants in the lawsuit include Raymond Kay, who served for a year as the district’s acting chief until Ken Brucki was named chief last May. Kay returned to his duties as battalion chief.

Also named are battalion chiefs Nicholas Cinquepalmi and Michael Schofield, and now-retired battalion chief Steven Smith.

Simone-Lorenz is seeking damages in excess of $50,000.

The district was not immediately available Thursday to comment on the lawsuit.

In her new complaint, Simone-Lorenz said that “pornographic and offensive material,” including magazines and computer images, were routinely on display in the workplace, including the women’s washroom, and that she was subjected “on a daily basis” to “inappropriate and immature sexual comments, gestures and noises.” She said she is one of two female firefighters with the district, which has more than 100 firefighters.

When she complained, even to the district’s human resources office, her allegations were not investigated, Simone-Lorenz alleges.

The firefighter alleges that derogatory remarks weren’t limited to colleagues, and that members of the command staff “frequently commented about women’s body features that are shown on TV or patients they were caring for on calls in a derogatory fashion.”

Simone-Lorenz said she was discriminated against because of her gender, including one incident in which Kay cited her for a uniform violation and required that she undergo a follow-up inspection, although Kay didn’t reprimand a male lieutenant who was also in violation of uniform policy.

She also alleges defendants worked in concert with other department personnel “to initiate complaints against (her) in an effort to get her demoted and/or fired.”

In November 2011, Simone-Lorenz was disciplined and suspended for two days for an off-duty incident in which she made an obscene gesture to a fellow lieutenant. She and the union that represents district firefighters challenged the discipline, and an arbitrator last August ruled the district was out of line in handing down the suspension.

In the ruling, the arbitrator noted the district had no prior history of disciplining employees “who use vulgar language or gestures,” and that testimony during the arbitration hearing showed the district “regularly ignores such conduct,” the arbitrator noted.

The district incurred legal costs in excess of $50,000 associated with the discipline and her contesting of it, according to the firefighters union, citing public documents it obtained from the district following the arbitrator’s ruling.



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