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Published: Thursday, 10/18/2007

Firefighters' gender bias lawsuit is dismissed

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A lawsuit filed two years ago by three women, who at the time were members of the Toledo Fire Department, that accused the former chief and two deputy chiefs of gender discrimination has been dismissed by a Lucas County Common Pleas judge.

Judge Linda Jennings ruled there was no evidence that what happened to Capt. Carla Stachura and Firefighters Judi Imhoff and Geraldine McCalland, all of whom are no longer members of the department, was anything more than isolated incidents of tension or personality conflicts among co-workers or between supervisors.

"It appears that [Ms. Stachura, Ms. Imhoff, and Ms. McCalland] presume that because they are women anything 'negative' that happened to them in the workplace constituted gender discrimination," Judge Jennings said in her ruling issued last week.

The women contended that they were subjected to various discriminatory practices and endured derogatory comments and verbal abuse from male officers and firefighters.

They filed the lawsuit in November, 2005, accusing the city, then-Chief Mike Bell, Deputy Chief John Coleman, and then-Deputy Chief Robert Metzger of gender discrimination, retaliation, and creating a hostile work environment for women.

Each of the women asked for damages and compensation in excess of $250,000.

Terry Lodge, an attorney representing the women, said yesterday he is considering filing an appeal by early next month.

"I was very disappointed with the conclusion," he said. "We're disappointed."

City Law Director John Madigan, who is representing the defendants, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ms. Stachura, who was appointed to the department in 1993, claimed she was treated differently than male officers in the department, including being placed in an office at the department's museum away from department headquarters while she was in charge of the fire prevention bureau.

Ms. McCalland, a 22-year department veteran, said she was denied reassignment to a position in the fire prevention bureau because she filed a grievance for being removed from the bureau in 2004.

She ultimately was given the job.

Ms. Imhoff, who was appointed to the department in 1989, said male crew members created a hostile work environment for her after she complained about a racial slur made in her presence.

The three women were fired in February after they were found guilty administratively of secretly audio-taping conversations in the workplace.

The administrative charges said that at least 40 recordings were made during a two-year period. The women were accused of sharing the information with their attorney's office by delivering a recording device for a data transfer.

The women originally were put on paid leave by then-Chief Bell for their own protection during a departmental internal investigation. At the time, he declined to explain why he felt they needed protection.

The internal investigation ended in June, 2006, resulting in numerous charges against each woman for violating department rules.

The charges indicated that Ms. Stachura, while in her capacity as a supervisor, became aware Firefighters Imhoff and McCalland were secretly recording conversations at work and failed to take any corrective action to end the activity or bring it to the attention of a superior officer.

Ms. McCalland was accused of recording Chief Coleman and two battalion chiefs on at least one occasion each.

The charges said there were as many as 17 additional instances over a six-month period. Ms. McCalland admitted to at least five, the charges stated.

Ms. Imhoff was accused of taping a conversation in the department's administrative offices to which she was not a party and recorded Chief Coleman on at least one occasion.

The charges said there were at least 10 other instances, and possibly as many as 50, in a 1 1/2-year period in which Ms. Imhoff secretly recorded conversations.

Contact Laren Weber at:

lweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6064.



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