Former Ohio firefighter gets $3.35M in harassment, discrimination lawsuit
Amie Morningstar, the first full-time female firefighter on that community's force, filed suit in late 2015 and was fired in early 2016
By Marc Kovac
The Columbus Dispatch
CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio — A jury awarded $3.35 million Wednesday to a former Circleville firefighter who sued the city, alleging years of harassment and discrimination, including unwanted sexual advances, denied promotions and bodily fluids on her belongings.
Amie Morningstar, 38, of Circleville, the first full-time female firefighter on that community's force, filed suit in late 2015 and was fired in early 2016, said her attorney, Brian K. Duncan.
"She feels vindicated," Duncan told The Dispatch. "After 15 years, her complaints have finally been heard, and they've been heard loud and clear."
Legal counsel for the Circleville fire and EMS departments and Chief Marc Zingarelli could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to court documents, Morningstar began volunteering as a Circleville emergency responder in 2001, subsequently finished firefighting school and was hired as a full-time firefighter in early 2007. She described in court documents years of inappropriate behavior — her equipment and gear were stolen and hidden on multiple occasions, there were holes cut in her clothing, and someone urinated in her shampoo bottle and placed what appeared to be other bodily fluids on one of her blankets.
She also alleged that she was passed over for promotion on multiple occasions, that a city employee made repeated, inappropriate sexual advances toward her and that the fire chief called her derogatory names in front of others.
Her complaints about the behavior went unanswered, Duncan said.
"The inactions were worse than the actions," he said.
Morningstar's trial lasted about a week before U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus.
On Wednesday, the jury awarded $3.25 million in compensatory damages to Morningstar in her case against the city and the fire department and $100,001 in punitive damages against Zingarelli.
"The verdict was just, based on the circumstances and the facts that were presented to the jury, and the admissions of the parties that were involved," Duncan said. "It was a very powerful message that was sent that in this day and this time and in this state, these behaviors cannot and will not be tolerated."
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