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Lesbian firefighter awarded damages after harassment, retaliation

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A former Providence, Rhode Island, firefighter has been awarded more than $800,000 in damages for the gender, sexual orientation and disability discrimination, and retaliation she suffered from male colleagues and city and union officials who failed to respond to her complaints.

A U.S. District Court of Rhode Island federal jury made the award Monday to Lori Franchina, who sued in 2012 alleging “intense, constant and prolific mistreatment” because she is a lesbian, resulting in her developing post-traumatic stress disorder, according to court records.

The jury found the city of Providence liable, and charges against the union and the fire department were dismissed in December 2012.

The woman, who had joined the fire department in 2002, alleged she was subjected to years of insults about her sexual orientation, given an obscene-sounding nickname, faced insubordination and disrespect from subordinates, and was physically assaulted by another firefighter.

She alleged the harassment endangered her safety and that of patients, but her repeated complaints were ignored.

A July 2009 incident led to Ms. Franchina's breakdown, when a fellow firefighter allegedly purposely sprayed her with a shooting victim's flesh and fluids while removing his gloves.

Ms. Franchina often had nightmares and “underwent repeated HIV tests to ensure that she was not infected. The firefighter went on medical leave in 2012.

“She feared that her fellow firefighters would not support her on an emergency call,” the complaint said, “and, worse, that no one would intervene if another male took it upon himself to attack her. She feared the next attack could be far more violent.”

On Monday, a jury awarded Ms. Franchina $806,0000, including lost wages, emotional damages and punitive damages.

News reports indicated that the city plans to appeal the decision.

A call to the office of Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza was not returned.