Another Providence firefighter files discrimination suit against city

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A female Providence firefighter who was a material witness in a sexual harassment case involving another city firefighter has filed her own lawsuit against the city.

Danielle Masse, a rescue lieutenant who was hired in 2001, claims she was demoted from the rank of captain and suspended for 10 days less than one month before she took the stand to testify on behalf of Lori Franchina, a former firefighter who was awarded $806,000 by a federal jury in a gender discrimination and sexual harassment trial earlier this year.

In the suit filed in federal court Wednesday, Masse claims she faced discipline that was “far more severe and drastic” than 25 “similarly-situated co-workers” following a December 2014 incident in which she got into an argument with a Rhode Island State Police trooper at the scene of a single-car accident.

Masse claims the driver of the vehicle was under the influence of heroin and she transported him to a hospital. She claims the trooper wanted to take the man into custody and an argument ensued. She said she called a fire chief to complain about the trooper and the trooper complained about her.

Masse claims the trooper’s complaint “went nowhere” until she was identified as a witness in the Franchina case. She claims then-acting Chief Scott Mello was not a neutral judge in her disciplinary hearing because he was present during her deposition in the Franchina case. Mello has since retired.

In that deposition, Masse testified that women who engaged in sexual relationships with men on the job were treated more favorably than women who did not. She also claimed that a male firefighter who assaulted had his personnel record “sanitized of all discipline” related to the incident.

Earlier this month, a federal judge denied the city’s motion to throw out the Franchina decision, as well as another motion requesting a new trial. The judge did throw out punitive damages awarded in the case, meaning that Franchina is now slated to receive about $700,000 from the city. A spokesperson for the Elorza administration has said the city will appeal the judge’s decision.

Reached Wednesday, John Martin, Masse’s attorney, declined to say how much his client is seeking from the city, but said she is suing for lost wages related to her demotion as well as future wages if she is not promoted back to the rank of captain.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit because the city has not been served.

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Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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