Former Boston firefighter Nathalie Fontanez obtained a $3.2 million settlement against the City of Boston for suffering gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation at the Boston Fire Department after she reported a workplace sexual assault.
Ms. Fontanez’s legal representation included Gloria Allred and Michael Maroko from Allred, Maroko & Goldberg.
Sexual assault at the hands of a colleague
In January 2018, Fontanez was sexually assaulted by one of her colleagues in the fire house. He was later convicted of criminal charges before a jury.
Instead of receiving support from her fellow firefighters, Fontanez experienced hostility, harassment and ostracism for reporting the assault and blamed Fontanez for the perpetrator’s job loss.
Retaliation for reporting abuse
Despite the hostile work environment, Fontanez was determined to further her career within the Boston Fire Department. A single mother, she had joined the department in 2011 to help people and to serve as a role model for her young daughter. Fontanez pursued a role within the Boston Fire Investigation Unit but was told that the position was only available to firefighters with greater seniority.
Later, Fontanez learned that the job had been given to a white man that had started at the department at the same time she had. Ms. Fontanez has alleged that the firehouse had a strongly male-dominated culture, and that this was another instance of the gender discrimination that she experienced.
Boston’s female firefighters deserve equal treatment
“I’m breaking my silence, because I believe that women firefighters deserve equal treatment in the Boston Fire Department,” Natalie Fontanez said in a statement. “However, at this point that is the dream, but not the reality, for many women firefighters. The Department is overdue for change, and the time for change is now. I hope that my drawing attention to some of the challenges I faced will help to bring that change.”
After Fontanez’s story became public, the City of Boston launched an investigation into the Boston Fire Department’s culture towards female firefighters. Firefighters were required to complete discrimination and harassment workplace trainings. While this is a necessary step towards workplace gender equality, time will tell whether the Boston Fire Department’s culture has actually changed for the better.