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Female firefighter awarded $275K in gender discrimination case

A former firefighter recruit agreed to a $275,000 settlement in a lawsuit that accused the San Diego Fire Academy of gender discrimination, hostile work environment, wrongful termination and retaliation.

Nicole Pappas, 32, was fired in 2016 after she complained about lewd drawings and inappropriate comments in the Fire Academy locker room. Male recruits made her look at penis images, criticized her weight and allegedly pushed her.

Pappas sued the academy in 2017, claiming that the city’s discriminatory practices included forcing female recruits to share the same locker room as male recruits. She said supervisors did not take any action to stop the harassment even though they knew about it.

Pappas then injured her leg, which kept her away from the academy until 2016. During this period, she told San Diego’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about the harassment she endured as part of their independent investigation.

The lawsuit claimed the city retaliated against Pappas by adding a new discriminatory requirement for joining the academy, which involved completing a three-mile run in under 24 minutes. Pappas had successfully completed the timed run in her first month at the academy. However, she was fired when she could not repeat her past success.

The city maintained the requirement was not discriminatory and that Pappas was fired because she failed to complete the run. However, the lawsuit pointed out the timed run is no longer a prerequisite for joining the academy or becoming a firefighter.

If you have experienced discrimination in the workplace, contact the knowledgeable employment attorneys at McCormack & Erlich.

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