Firefighter wins race and gender discrimination suit

International Herald Tribune reports that a Los Angeles jury has awarded $6.2 million to a firefighter who was harassed by colleagues because she is black and a lesbian.

The harassment included someone mixing urine with her mouthwash, she said. Brenda Lee’s lawsuit against the Los Angeles Fire Department also claimed her superiors made derogatory comments about her and forced her to perform strenuous exercises without proper safety precautions because of her race and sexual orientation.

Tuesday’s jury payout was the largest in a string of recent settlements of cases alleging discrimination and retaliation against women and minorities within the Fire Department.

Judge Michael L. Stern ordered the panel back to court Thursday for a second phase of the trial involving possible punitive damages against Lee’s former supervisor, Capt. Christopher Hare.

Rob Kitson, Lee’s attorney, declined to comment on the case because it was ongoing.

A spokesman for the city attorney’s office, Jonathan Diamond, said the city would “review its options going forward.”

Two other firefighters in the discrimination lawsuit already have won jury awards after their cases were tried separately.

In April, a jury awarded $1.7 million to Lewis Bressler, who claimed he was forced to retire for backing Lee in her claims of discrimination. Gary Mellinger, who alleged the department retaliated against him after he helped Lee, settled with the city for $350,000 after a jury found in his favor.