Jurors to Decide in San Diego Fireman-Pride Parade Lawsuit

fireprideSan Diego’s brave firemen put their lives on the line rescuing people from burning building and putting out wildfires, but for four San Diego firefighters, riding a truck through the annual Pride Parade was just too scary for words. So, after meeting a lawyer, they sued the SDFD for sexual harassment, asking for upwards of a million each in damages. The case is expected to go to the jury tomorrow.

The firefighters maintain that they were forced to attend the parade against their will, but in their testimony, they admit that for the most part, the more than 100,000 folks along the parade route were pretty nice. The San Diego Union-Tribune writes:

“The city’s best defense is, ‘Even if you were harassed, it was not severe or pervasive,’ ” said Shaun Martin, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law. “The law is unclear, and the fact that this is a hot-button issue makes this an even harder case. It’s going to be difficult to keep the jurors’ prejudices out of the decision-making.”

Deputy City Attorneys Don Shanahan and Kristin Zlotnik often pointed out that the firefighters weren’t touched, and all four firefighters testified that they did not feel threatened.

They were sitting about 6 feet off the ground in a fire engine, and each agreed the diesel engine and headphones silenced some of the comments. At one point, they rolled up the windows. Each also testified that most people in the crowd, estimated at more than 100,000, dressed and acted appropriately, and many waved and cheered as the engine passed.

The firefighters either contradicted themselves or each other when describing the amount of abuse.

Kane used the word “pockets” to describe the inappropriate behavior along the route, but he also testified it was consistent throughout.

Allison testified: “It was intermittent, . . . but if you incorporate verbal and visual, it was pretty much throughout.”

When LiMandri asked Allison to quantify the number of comments he heard, he put the figure “in the hundreds.” Shanahan asked Allison why he didn’t include that in the discrimination claim he filed shortly after the parade.

“You talk about (in the claim) gestures from three individuals and several witnesses blowing kisses, but nothing about the hundreds of comments,” Shanahan said. “Didn’t you think . . . that would be significant?”

Shanahan asked Allison to read one sentence from his claim: “I believe that a person who does not support homosexuality should not be forced to participate.”

LiMandri asked his client to read the next sentence: “However, my complaint is that I was ordered into a nonemergency environment against my will and was subjected to sexual harassment as a result.”

So, does this mean that the gay and lesbian community of San Diego gets to sue the city for hiring a bunch of greedy, opportunistic homophobes?

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  • blake

    This is a tricky case. Everyone knows that Pride Parades are sexually charged (nudity, simulated sex acts, etc). Women have successfully sued employers for being forced to attend business meetings that their male counterparts and customers wanted to be held at female strip clubs. Therefore, an argument could be made that the firefighters were forced to participate in a highly sexual event.

    I think the city erred by making participation mandatory. Had the city ordered firefighters to attend a gay professional recruiting event, the city would be on stronger grounds.

  • Sebbe

    Clearly they are just after some money. But, seems like the way to go forward is for them to have people “volunteer” to work (since they are getting paid) and whomever doesn’t want to doesn’t get the overtime.

  • petted

    Actually the SDFD did seek volunteers for the parades but 4 people dropped out last minute so they didn’t have enough time to seek new volunteers.

  • Jaroslaw

    Let me see if I get this straight, no pun intended – you can run into a burning building and DIE at any moment but a few catcalls at a parade has you unhinged? BS.

    And Blake, I think you’d agree the confines of a dark strip club is probably a lot more intimidating to a woman than a parade in broad daylight. They admitted they didn’t feel threatened.

    A million dollars because they felt “uncomfortable” again, is BS. Please “abuse” me for a couple hours so I can get a million dollars.

  • dgz

    seriously, great analysis.
    do you happen to know what the cash awards in the strip-club harassment cases looked like? i would hope that in this case an official apology would be considered equitable relief. a mill seems ridiculously punitive.

    and then maybe the city should make sensitivity training for the entire department mandatory — nothing “harassing” about that!

  • sdandy

    If they were up in the trucks they were far away and “safe” from anyone harassing them. Unfortunately, as they were ‘forced’ to participate it makes it a lot more of a gray area. But still they are just grabbing for some cash.


    It doesn’t seem right that anyone should be *forced* to participate in a pride parade, but the price tag is absurd. Of course “common sense is not allowed.”

  • petted

    I believe there were more then 4 firemen at the event – though I haven’t found any specific numbers – it’d be nice to hear what they had to say.

  • petted

    “They [4 firemen] each testified that the San Diego gay pride parade of 2007 left them with nausea, headaches, anxiety and other forms of emotional distress, however they were not made to interact with the crowd during the parade, and, as reported by the Union Tribune were allowed to go through the parade with the windows up and listening to music if they so chose, which, half way through, they did. ”


    “San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne took the stand today in the Superior Court case involving four firefighters who sued the city on a sexual harassment complaint after they were ordered to ride a fire engine in the 2007 gay pride parade.
    Lansdowne testified he marched in the last five pride parades, or every year since he became chief in 2003. He said he has no trouble getting officers to march in any parade, including the pride parade, where some officers are on duty and others are there voluntarily.”

    I know the fire Chief was in the crowd and it looks like there are at least 3 guys in the fire truck so I think the only reason they needed those 4 guys would be so that they could have the fire truck and have fire men who did volunteer out and able to mingle with the crowd – though does anyone know why they would need 4 firemen to be in the fire truck during the parade?

  • Jaroslaw

    It seems silly to force someone to be in a parade, but then lots of jobs require things much more inconvenient than that. As I and others have already said, this seems like a transparent grab for cash.

    And if they were so traumatized and humiliated, then how do they think it feels to be Gay all day?

  • petted


    Since they were only in the truck and its likely that even during a parade a skeleton crew is required to be on the truck in case of an emergency i.e. a fire one could view the situation as follows because there must be a skeleton crew on a fire truck at all times its in motion even during public engagements then it was as much a part of their duty to see to the availability of the fire truck during a parade as it would be to be in a state of preparedness at the fire station in the event a fire breaks out.

  • Jaroslaw

    Many employment contracts, mine included, has a lovely phrase “and duties as assigned.” Any comments?


    Does that phrase normally include advocating for political causes you disagree with?

  • Jaroslaw

    Oh please! Firemen serve the entire community, participating in a parade would be considered community relations. Either that, or they don’t participate in ANY parades. Which of course isn’t going to happen.

    Many things on many jobs have facets I, You and everyone else disagrees with but do you quit? Advocate too vigorously for change and get fired?

  • Sebbe

    Well they are “public servants”. I think it would be different in the private sector. I know someone who used to work for a law firm that wanted them to participate in all these crazy republican fundraisers and events. He ended up quitting and I’m sure it not legal (at least in Boston) where he was.

  • Jaroslaw

    Sebbe – Just to be clear, serving ALL the public is very different than forcing someone to contribute financially to partisan politics and only one party at that.

  • Sebbe

    @Jaroslaw – are you saying that they have no obligation to serve all of the public? Because imo they do. What if someone is against war and the military? Don’t they still have to participate in those parades, veteran’s day or whatever?

    Maybe I misunderstood your statement though?

  • Jaroslaw

    Perhaps it is not as clear as I thought. Serving the public or working any job usually requires SOMETHING you personally don’t agree with. (so yes to participating in a parade even if you disagree with the military being there etc.) The firefighters or any other public service job do not get to pick which part of the community they serve. Being required to go to a parade for a couple hours once a year is nothing to complain about. So yes, we agree, all the public must be served as equally as possible.

  • magdelyn

    Let’s stop the baloney here. I assume the SD parade is much like the San Francisco parade. Nudity, profane gestures, simulated (and sometimes) real sex acts are performed in public, ass-less chaps….blah blah blah. It’s not a pride parade, its a exhibit out sexuality parade, the type of which would put a straight guy behind bars.

    Why should anyone be forced to watch it?

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