Sexual harassment claims, as well as most employment claims, are comprised of several battles that make up a larger war. The case of Melissa Ignasiak Smith is a perfect example. Smith claimed to have endured sexual harassment at the hands of lieutenants and chiefs within the New Smyrna Beach Fire Department. When she complained of the sexual harassment, the evidence showed that Smith was retaliated against and then eventually terminated.
First, Smith filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In response, the city told the EEOC that Smith was frequently tardy, argued with a superior, failed to call in sick, and received verbal counseling and written warnings for other violations as well. As is a common problem with EEOC filings, the EEOC dismissed her complaint of gender discrimination, reporting that it failed to find any violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Then, Smith hired an employment attorney and sued in July 2011 with the case ending up in federal court. In March, federal jury comprised of seven women and one man, unanimously found the city of New Smyrna Beach liable in the sexual harassment and awarded Smith $444,000 in back wages and emotional distress damages – although she had gotten a job as a nurse at a local hospital.
Then on June 21, 2013, the federal judge ordered that the city had until July 31 to reinstate Smith to her former position in the fire department with the same seniority, pay and benefits.
The city moved the court to reverse the jury’s finding or at least give them a new trial. The judge was having none of that, holding on September 16, 2013: “Based on its view of the evidence presented, the jury found that (the City) engaged in disparate treatment, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against a female firefighter based on her gender…The Court finds no grounds to disturb the jury’s verdict.”
So is that the end? Nope. The city appealed the verdict to the Court of Appeal – which presents the difficult task of trying to get a Court of Appeal to invade the providence of the jury, particularly where the trial court refused to.
In the meantime, the city has rehired Smith, but, according to her attorney, city management continues to retaliate by intentionally withholding necessary training and refused to place her on the list of firefighters who are eligible to work in the more highly paid positions of driver/engineer. Some employers apparently never learn. This new conduct is not covered by the prior judgment, but should represent new claims and damages.
Is it worth it? Beyond the $444,000, Smith said the most important part of the fight was showing her daughter that women can do anything … even if they have to fight for their rights to do so.
If you feel that you are being sexually harassed or are working in a sexually charged or hostile working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney at (216) 291-4744 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At The Spitz Law Firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment lawyer/hostile work environment attorney to find out what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Sexual harrassment is a form of gender discrimination, and employers should be held accountable if they discriminate against female workers in any fashion – but particularly for sexual harrassment.
The materials available at this gender discrimination and employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. It is best contact an Ohio sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to obtain advice with respect to sexual harassment/hostile work environment questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm or any individual attorney