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 this week.
Raechel Sterud, 32, sued the Delaware County township and her supervising lieutenant, Keith Myers, in 2010, saying she was the victim of gender discrimination.
After a weeklong trial, a jury in Franklin County agreed, voting 7-1 on Monday 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.
“The verdict represents vindication for (Sterud),” her attorney, Daniel Mordarski said yesterday. “She’s been waiting for five years for a jury to look at all the facts and indicate that what happened was wrong.”
Michael Valentine, the attorney for Myers, declined comment. John Latchney, who represented the township, did not immediately return a call.
Common Pleas Judge Kim Brown will schedule hearings to determine how much Sterud is owed in attorney 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.
Robert Quigley, chairman of the Orange Township board of trustees, said the township has not decided whether to appeal the ruling.
“I think what we’re trying to do is find out what all the options are,” Quigley said. “There’s nothing really right now that I can say.”
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 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.
Sterud was able to file the lawsuit in Franklin County because that’s where Myers lives.
By John Futty - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services