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South Florida female firefighter wins major sexual harassment suit

While women have made a lot of progress in their fight for workplace equality, there are still a number of traditionally male-dominated professions where female employees are often viewed as unwelcome intruders.

Sadly, there is a disturbing history of sexual harassment and hazing of women in many South Florida fire departments. Recently, however, a female firefighter won a lawsuit in against the city of Miami Beach and its fire department after years of suffering alleged sexual harassment, hostile working conditions and even death threats.

The woman has worked as a firefighter and paramedic for the department since 2005, reportedly facing sexual harassment and gender discrimination nearly the entire time.

In addition to regularly hearing comments such as "women belong in the kitchen," the lawsuit claims that male coworkers sometimes refused to work with her simply because she was not a man.

The complaint also alleges sexually aggressive acts from other firefighters as well. For instance, a male coworker once walked in on her in the shower. On another occasion, her bathing suit went missing and was later found in a locker. It had been stained with semen.

The woman filed an EEOC complaint in 2008 and a federal sexual harassment and discrimination suit two years later. Last month, she prevailed in her federal lawsuit and was awarded $700,000 by a jury.

The verdict is being challenged by the legal office of Miami Beach. Unfortunately, this means that the woman's fight may not yet be over.

But no matter how the case is ultimately decided, her struggles will not have been in vain. Many of us will rightly find ourselves inspired by this brave woman, who was willing to challenge the status quo in a male-dominated job and stand up for her rights in the face of bigotry and closed minds.

Source: Miami Herald, "Female Miami Beach firefighter awarded $700,000 in sexual harassment case," David Smiley, April 5, 2012

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