A woman who was fired as an Orange Township firefighter after complaining of sexual harassment by a co-worker was awarded more than $1.7 million in damages last month. Raechel Sterud, 32, sued the Delaware County township and her supervising lieutenant, Keith Myers, in 2010, saying she was the victim of gender discrimination. A jury in Franklin County found that she was fired in 2007 because of her gender and that Myers acted “with actual malice” in recommending her termination. The jurors returned a judgment of $1.67 million against the township and $75,000 against Myers.
Common Pleas Judge Kim Brown, in subsequent hearings, will determine how much Ms. Sterud is owed in attorney’s fees by the Defendants and whether she should get her job back. If the judge determines that it is reasonable and safe for her to return to the fire department, where those involved with the harassment and termination are still working, she would not receive the largest part of the judgment — $779,702 in future wages.
Ms. Sterud was hired as a full-time firefighter by the township in January 2007 and was fired two weeks before her one-year probationary period was to expire. In her lawsuit, she said that a male firefighter began sexually harassing her immediately after transferring to her unit and that Myers didn’t act on her complaints. Evidence in the case included an email in which a firefighter warned Myers that Ms. Sterud planned to file a formal complaint once she left probation and became a member of the firefighter’s union.
Testimony at the trial showed that township firefighters were shown sexual-harassment training videos on a split screen so they also could watch a NASCAR race. Fire Chief Tom Stewart, Assistant Fire Chief Matt Noble and the firefighter accused of harassment, were named as Defendants in the original lawsuit, but were dismissed from the case before it reached trial. Daniel Mordarski, a lawyer from Columbus, Ohio, who represented the Plaintiff, said “The verdict represents vindication for (Sterud). She’s been waiting for five years for a jury to look at all the facts and indicate that what happened was wrong.”
Source: The Columbus Dispatch
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