Female Firefighter reveals her Experience with Sexual Harassment

Providence – Lori Franchina, ex-firefighter of Providence, RI, began her career in 2002. Three years later she allegedly started to face workplace sexual harassment from the lieutenant at the present time along with gender discrimination against her sexual orientation from others who remain anonymous in the lawsuit.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed with the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island approximately four years ago against “the City of Providence and the local firefighters’ union.” According to the lawsuit, Franchina identifies herself as a lesbian who had to bear the hardship and negative remarks. In an incident involving assault, her safety was compromised in the workplace.  This happened as a result of working with male colleagues who refused to work with her during perilous occasions.

Franchina says her experience included “sexual harassment, lewd nicknames, insubordination, and discrimination.” After she brought her complaints to her superiors, it appears that her expression of discomfort was totally disregarded considering further action had not been taken prior to her lawsuit. Franchina says, “It was known that these things were happening, and nothing had been done.”
Franchina genuinely believes she was “targeted” for sexual harassment and all that it entails because she is a lesbian who ascended in the Fire Department swiftly.

Several Sexual Harassment Incidents contributed to Franchina’s Anguish

Over the last decade, Franchina suffered from various “embarrassing and dangerous” episodes of sexual harassment during her employment at the Fire Department listed in the nineteen-page lawsuit. Although each incident made a contribution to Franchina’s current state of mind, she released the details to some of the jaw-dropping moments.

The lieutenant, previously mentioned, who started the sexual harassment in 2005 called Franchina “Franchina.” This title represented a combination of Lori’s last name Franchina and a female’s genitals. Inappropriate is an understatement for the title he fabricated for Franchina as opposed to her actual name.

On another occasion, there was a time when a male firefighter thought it was acceptable to inform Franchina “normally, I don’t like working with women.” Then he inquired about her sexual orientation by saying, “are you a lesbian, or are you just doing everybody?” He continued to insult Franchina by referring to himself as a lesbian and noting that they like the same thing. The last time they were together he “pinched his nipple,” and shouted “my lesbian lover.” None of these activities were suitable for the workplace, which resulted in the termination of this firefighter in 2006. Later, he received his job back through a “grievance procedure.” The Fire Department did the right thing by terminating an employee who violated the code of conduct in the workplace; however, this good deed was eliminated when they allowed that same employee to return.

The lawsuit also addressed an event that took place in 2006 when Franchina requested assistance from some male colleagues with her response to an emergency call to save a patient’s life whose pulse she managed to locate, and they allegedly refrained from helping her. Relatives of the patient questioned the lack of assistance Franchina was receiving from her colleagues, and a response to their query has yet to be disclosed. Based on the lawsuit, the patient “never regained consciousness.”

This incident is more than a case of sexual harassment or discrimination. The incident had a negative impact on Lori Franchina, the Fire Department, the City, and most importantly the people of Providence, R.I. Imagine how an individual from, residing in, or visiting Providence, R.I. that is unaware of the sexual harassment and discrimination problems would feel knowing life could’ve been saved if employees would keep their personal problems and preferences out of the work environment. It’s also in the hands of the superiors to enforce the mission of the workplace. Everyone is entitled to opinions and emotions, but not at the expense of another individual including patients and fellow coworkers.

In 2009, Franchina was helping a patient with a gunshot wound when a “male subordinate launched blood, brain matter, and other fluids into her mouth, nostrils, eyes, and ears” after he managed to make contact with Franchina’s face using his “rubber glove” according to the lawsuit.

In this case, Franchina was placed in a compromising position since the male subordinate decided to disrupt her sanitary environment and jeopardize her health by practically splattering blood on her face. In today’s world, there are so many unknown substances floating through blood cells, individuals whose job description includes contact with blood have to be cautious to avoid any harm.

Unpredictable Consequences following Sexual Harassment leads to an Enormous Payout

Franchina’s claim acknowledges that she battled post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A restraining order was also filed against the unnamed firefighter for the assault episode.

These unbearable work conditions led Franchina to an early retirement. She said “it had an effect almost every day,” and “It breaks you. It wears you down. You still try to come to work every day and do your job well.” Although Lori Franchina continued to suffer from sexual harassment, she never let it interfere with her work performance. She didn’t plan on leaving so soon, but under the circumstances, an early departure was the best option for her.

A key role in a Firefighter’s profession is to protect people. In addition to serving as an employee, Lori Franchina is also a citizen. According to the Providence Fire Department, they “strive” to uphold their motto “In Omnia Paratus” which translates “In all Things Ready.” This motto represents the “the best professional service” the Providence Fire Department delivers with “respect, dignity and a high sense of ethics” for the citizens and visitors of the city.

Franchina’s sexual harassment lawyer informed the jury that Franchina’s superiors “chose not to protect her.” He also stated, “If those rules don’t protect Lori, they don’t protect anybody.”
The city’s officials argued that Franchina had not filed an EEOC claim with the Equal Employment Officer regarding her complaints. They also addressed her as an individual with a reputation of being “difficult to work with.” Based on the Providence Journal, Kevin McHugh’s, city solicitor, statement “that’s what it’s all about, Lori Franchina being unable to get along with her supervisors, subordinates, or fellow fire fighters,” would make someone contemplate if his statement is truthful. However, evidence has yet to appear to prove any misbehavior or complications on Franchina’s part as an employee.
Andre Ferro is the only firefighter listed in the lawsuit. He’s still employed with the Fire Department earning over $62,000 a year. Steven Pare, Public Safety Commissioner, recognized Ferro’s actions were handled in 2009, and no further action will be taken. If the Fire Department continues to take the sexual harassment incidents lightly, individuals who should be held accountable for their actions will never suffer the consequences, and the sexual harassment will continue.

The jury awarded Franchina over $800,000 for “loss wages, emotional damages, and punitive damages.” The Mayor of Providence, RI, Jorge O. Elorza decided that the city would appeal decision of the jury. If the decision remains the same after the appeal, he said the city would make the large payout through the “general budget.

A Message to All

Presently, changes in the Fire Department are on hold until after the court appeal. Regardless of the outcome of the court appeal, changes need to be made to secure the safety and sanity of the firefighters. Franchina would like her case to be an example to the Providence Fire Department of how they should approach a case involving sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace by following Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Women deal with situations similar to Franchina’s on a regular basis. Some speak up, and others are quiet and fearful. If you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace and/or suffering from workplace retaliation as a solution to you complaints in the tri-state area, contact our New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia sexual harassment attorneys at the Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC. Our sexual harassment attorneys are highly qualified, easily accessible, and eager to assist you with your case. If no one else listens to you, we will. Call us at 800-807-2209 for a free consultation.