$2.5 million award for former recruit Michelle Maher. Fresno Fire Department guilty of gender discrimination.

From the AP:

A jury has awarded nearly $2.5 million to a woman who said she was forced out of the Fresno Fire Department’s training academy in 2005 because of her gender.

The federal court jury found Friday that 39-year-old Michelle Maher was a victim of gender discrimination. Maher said a supervisor during her time at the academy repeatedly asked her about her divorce and suggested she was slacking because she was a single mother.

She said she was asked to resign or be expelled after she scored below 80 percent on an exam. Her male counterparts, meanwhile, were given chances to improve.

Maher resigned and sued the fire department in 2008.

Fire officials said they wanted Maher to succeed but she did not meet department standards.

Excerpts from Fresno Bee article by John Ellis:

The verdict marks another gender-discrimination win for Oakland-based attorney Dan Siegel, who has represented or helped represent several women in gender-discrimination suits against California State University, Fresno. Among them are former Fresno State volleyball coach Lindy Vivas and former women’s basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein.

After Friday’s verdict from the five-woman, three-man panel, Siegel said it is fair to compare Maher’s verdict to those against Fresno State. Leaders of both institutions, he said, do not take responsibility for their actions.

Chief Randy Bruegman from Fresno Fire Department website.
Chief Randy Bruegman from Fresno Fire Department website.

Siegel singled out Fresno Fire Chief Randy Bruegman, who he said talks about gender equity but doesn’t put it into practice. He said not a single woman has been hired since Bruegman became chief seven years ago, and during that time, the number of women on the force has dropped from 12 to eight out of a force of around 320.

“Unfortunately there are some public agencies in Fresno that haven’t gotten the message about gender equality,” Siegel said. “I hope this sends the message.”

Bruegman referred calls to the City Attorney’s Office. City Attorney Jim Sanchez did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

But in closing arguments, Greg Myers, who represented the Fire Department, said the academy leaders wanted Maher to succeed and did their best to accommodate her. In the end, Myers said, she didn’t meet department standards.


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