Jury returns split verdict in Ohio firefighter discrimination case

The jury awarded Pvt. Judi Imhoff $150,000 related to gender discrimination, but jurors denied claims of discrimination made by a retired captain


By Kaitlin Durbin
The Blade

TOLEDO, Ohio — A Lucas County jury Wednesday determined the city of Toledo discriminated against one female firefighter, but not a second, ending a 14-year lawsuit.

The jury awarded Pvt. Judi Imhoff $150,000 related to gender discrimination, finding she did suffer adverse employment action, but jurors denied claims of discrimination made by a retired captain, Carla Stachura. Claims of retaliation for both women also were denied.

The two had sought a collective $1.35 million in damages.

Toledo Law Director Dale Emch said the city never denied Private Imhoff “was treated badly and unfairly by two firefighters,” but said the city defended against the lawsuit because the department had disciplined the employees and therefore the city was not liable for that conduct. One received a dock in pay for two weeks and the other was transferred out of the fire station. Their lieutenant also was disciplined.

“No employee for the city of Toledo should be treated differently based on race or gender,” Mr. Emch said.

The two women’s attorney, Terry Lodge, did not return calls seeking comment.

The lawsuit, originally filed in November, 2005, dismissed and then refiled in July, 2015, claimed the city failed to take action after co-workers subjected the women to verbal abuse and sexually demeaning language, creating a hostile work environment that eventually led Ms. Stachura to medically retire and Private Imhoff to change work stations.

Private Imhoff, a 25-year firefighter who remains on active duty, said male firefighters made repeated derogatory and racial comments and left magazines with offensive pictures on her bed and in other areas throughout the station where she would see them. The actions isolated Private Imhoff to the point where she asked to be reassigned to a different station, her attorney said Tuesday during closing statements.

A five-woman, three-man jury voted 6-2 that those actions did constitute as gender discrimination, but was initially deadlocked on whether the city retaliated against the women when the two were fired for secretly recording conversations in the fire department — for which they were later reinstated — or related to any changes in their job duties.

After nearly seven hours of deliberation, six of the eight jurors determined retaliation did not occur.

In closing statements Tuesday, Mr. Lodge said Ms. Stachura had been “on an uphill track since the day she started at the department,” but was stalled when she began complaining about conditions at the department, particularly negative interactions she’d had with one of the deputy chiefs at the time.

Ms. Stachura said she was moved around and stripped of official duties related to her position as acting chief of the fire prevention bureau. She also accused command staff of making offensive comments. She retired in 2008.

The city previously called the allegations “personality conflicts.”

Private Geraldine McCalland was initially a party to the lawsuit but withdrew, and four command officers specifically named in the lawsuit — chiefs Michael Bell and Michael Wolever, and former deputy chiefs John Coleman and Robert Metzger — were dismissed.

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©2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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