Providence loses appeal in sexual harassment case of former female firefighter

Providence Fire Lt. Lori Franchina outside U.S. District Court after winning her gender discrimination and sexual harassment suit against the city. (Photo: Steph Machado | WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In a scathing ruling, the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a jury’s decision to award more than $500,000 to a former Providence firefighter who sued the city claiming her colleagues harassed her because she is a woman and a lesbian.

Lt. Lori Franchina was initially awarded $806,000 following a 2016 trial in U.S. District Court, but the amount was later reduced by $100,000. The city is also required to cover Franchina’s attorney fees, which is expected to exceed $100,000.

“The abuse Lori Franchina suffered at the hand of the Providence Fire Department is nothing short of abhorrent and, as this case demonstrates, employers should be cautioned that turning a blind eye to blatant discrimination does not generally fare well under anti-discrimination laws like Title VII,” the three-judge panel stated in its decision.

Franchina, who retired in 2013, had filed suit the prior year after she says she endured years of harassment, lewd nicknames, insubordination and discrimination.

In her original lawsuit, Franchina said she filed dozens of verbal and written complaints regarding incidents of insubordination and harassment. She also had a restraining order against a fellow firefighter who she said assaulted her.

The lawsuit described one 2009 incident when Franchina was working on a victim who had been shot in the head. A male subordinate snapped his rubber glove in her face, which “launched blood, brain matter, and other fluids into her mouth, nostrils, eyes, and ears.”

Franchina claimed she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder following that incident.

The only firefighter named in the lawsuit was Andre Ferro, who was fired last year after he was accused of making an insulting comment to an African-American woman.

In a statement, Victor Morente, a spokesperson for Mayor Jorge Elorza, said the city will not appeal the latest decision.

“The city of Providence remains committed to maintaining a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination,” he said. “The city takes any complaint seriously and investigates each matter.”

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

Nancy Krause contributed to this report.