The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has filed a charge of sex discrimination against the Harmony Fire District on behalf of a female EMT/firefighter who was terminated from her job after she and several others raised concerns that male and female firefighters were being treated differently. The charge, filed with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is on behalf of Kimberly Perreault, who served as a firefighter for the Harmony Fire District for 12 years before being terminated in January 2015 for purportedly being “unhappy” with the fire department.
Perreault’s firing, the charge alleges, was in retaliation for concerns raised at a Harmony Fire District Board meeting in October of last year. At the meeting, Perreault, another female EMT/firefighter, and several male firefighters expressed concerns about women not getting fair treatment in the fire department. Three months later, she was summoned to a meeting with Fire District Chief Stuart Pearson where she was terminated. The only explanation that Pearson gave was that he believed she was unhappy working there.
Perreault stated in the complaint: “I had not expressed unhappiness with the Department. I had expressed concern that the Department was not treating women on a level field with men…I believed that I was discriminated against because of my gender and retaliated against because of my opposition to discrimination and the perception that I was supporting a complaint of opposition to the existence of gender discrimination in the Harmony Fire Department.”
After Perreault was fired, the other female EMT/firefighter who raised concerns about gender discrimination was later terminated for similar reasons. None of the male firefighters who raised concerns have been disciplined or terminated.
ACLU volunteer attorney Sonja Deyoe, who is handling the complaint, said today: “No one should be penalized for asking their employer for equal treatment. Our laws are set up to protect individuals who do so, because absent those protections, no one would ever ask for equal treatment from their employer.”
Ms. Perreault added: “I have always been available at a moment's notice to help the people of the Harmony Fire District and the surrounding communities in their time of need. A job I have done for the past 12 years with pride. Needless to say, I was shocked when I met with Chief Pearson in January to find out the meeting was my termination for supposedly being ‘unhappy.’ I am pursuing this with the hope of stopping this type of discrimination and retaliation from repeating itself. The actions taken by the Chief have impacted my standing within my professional community, which is something I have worked very hard for.”
ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown noted: “The troubles with fire districts, which seem to operate like little fiefdoms, appear to go deep and wide. It is disturbing to now see discrimination added to their list of transgressions. We hope to see this injustice rectified.”
The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights will now investigate the complaint.