Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fire District secretly pays $50,000 to settle female firefighter's sexual harassment suit.

On September 5, 2014, the Franklin Township Fire District No. 3 (Somerset County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a former female volunteer firefighter who claimed that she was forced from her position because of pervasive sexual harassment.

According to her lawsuit, Courtney Jackson served as a volunteer at Community Fire (Station 25) from March 13, 2012 "until her retaliatory discharge on June 24, 2013."  Jackson said that then Assistant Chief Chris Calvo sexually harassed her by making an "obvious reference to her genitals" during an April 2013 conversation.  Jackson claimed that when she told Calvo that she was going to take an SCBA face piece "fit test," he told her that she was going to take a "different test" that he called a "triangle test . . . to see if the carpet matches the drapes."  According to Community's web site, Chris Calvo now serves as the Deputy Chief.

Jackson also claimed that Calvo repeatedly said that the Boston Marathon bombing perpetrator was a "light skinned, big tittied black girl" loud enough so that Jackson could hear it.  Jackson said that her letter to the Board of Fire Commissioners complaining about the harassment was not honored because it "was not properly formatted, and she had to rewrite it."  She further claims that Calvo said "I can't stand this f***ing bitch Courtney! This is what the world is coming to? I didn't like the bitch before, now I definitely don't like the bitch!"  She claimed that her application to become a full member of the fire department was ultimately denied because she was retaliated against.

Also named in the lawsuit was former Deputy Fire Chief Herman Calvo who, at the time of this writing, serves as Chief of the Department.

The case is captioned Courtney Jackson v. Franklin Community Volunteer Fire Department, et al, Docket No. MID-L-6111-13 and Jackson's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Jackson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Franklin or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Franklin or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jackson $50,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.