Jury Awards Ex-Firefighter $1.2M

February 22, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A former Philadelphia firefighter, who claimed he was sexually harassed by men under his command - who mistakenly thought he was gay, won $1.2 million from a federal court jury.

The 10-member jury awarded Robert Bianchi $225,000 in back pay, $512,000 in regular pay and $500,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress, according to a Legal Intelligencer report.

Bianchi lawyer Andrew Erba said his client had been “pushed out of a job he loved”.

Promotion to Lieutenant

According to court papers, Bianchi was promoted to lieutenant after 17 years as a firefighter.

He was assigned to firehouse in March 1996 and began implementing discipline and training procedure changes – some of which were met with objections from his firefighters.

Bianchi claimed the harassment began almost right away – finding several used condoms inside his desk drawer and explicit homosexual playing cards in his desk, uniform, and running gear. He found envelopes on his desk with a return address from the Gay Firefighters Association, Bianchi claimed.

He complained to his superiors, but he said no action was taken.

In November 1997, Bianchi said he finally told his superior that he was going to the Civil Service Commission and his union. Soon after, Bianchi alleged, he was transferred to the department’s safety office.  He was removed from firefighting duties for a time and then returned to work only to find the harassment was continuing, Bianchi alleged.

Medical Leave or Job Abandonment?

Bianchi left the job again – this time on medical leave, the case history recounted. When he tried to return, he said the city fired him after charging him with abandoning the firefighter position.

Bianchi’s lawsuit was allowed to proceed to trial last month with the proviso that he proved that his colleagues thought he was gay.