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Former firefighter wins $444,000 in gender discrimination suit


A former New Smyrna Beach, Fla., firefighter on Tuesday was awarded a $444,000 verdict in her gender discrimination and retaliation case against the city.

A jury in federal court in Orlando awarded Melissa Smith $244,000 in back wages and $200,000 in emotional distress damages in a unanimous verdict, according to court documents.

Since 2003, Ms. Smith had worked as a firefighter for the city of New Smyrna Beach. In 2008, she was terminated for not having current certifications and violations committed during a call to the scene of a 2007 fatal accident.

In 2008, Ms. Smith filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging gender discrimination and retaliation. The EEOC dismissed her complaint, then she filed a civil action against the city, according to court documents.

In the suit, filed in 2011, Ms. Smith alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her gender, was repeatedly harassed, denied training, unjustly suspended, and was told by a supervisor to “get pregnant so I could have you as my new secretary instead of having you fight fires.”

After making numerous complaints about lieutenants and chiefs in the New Smyrna Beach fire department, Ms. Smith claims she was fired on trumped-up charges, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division.

The jury’s unanimous verdict came at the end of a six-day trial. Along with the monetary award, Ms. Smith is entitled under state and federal law to reinstatement or front-pay, which will be decided by District Judge Roy B. Dalton, Ms. Smith’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based attorneys, William R. Amlong and Karen Coolman Amlong, said in a statement, who also represented her in the case.

The city of New Smyrna Beach will appeal the verdict, said Carol Hargy, the city’s director of human resources.