Judge Throws Out $700,000 Verdict in Miami Beach Firefighter's Sexual Harassment Suit UPDATED
Marlenis Smart describes her seven years as a firefighter as a nightmare. In a lawsuit filed in 2010, she claimed she was sexually harassed by co-workers from her first day on the job. Male firefighters told her "women belong in the kitchen," accused her of being a slut, and walked in on her in the shower. A bathing suit was stolen from her locker and spattered with semen. Her bra was hung from the rafters.
She even received death threats.
A federal judge decided Tuesday that although the treatment was "abhorrent and unprofessional," it did not amount to sexual harassment. The judge also took the unusual step of stripping Smart of her $700,000 jury award. The firefighter intends to appeal.
UPDATE: Smart called New Times to explain her outrage over the reversal. "If what happened to me wasn't sexual harassment, then what is?"
U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke sided with the City of Miami Beach, ruling that Smart's abuse did not amount to sexual harassment.
"The incidents Ms. Smart identifies were single-occurring instances that, while inappropriate, vulgar, and offensive, were not severe," she wrote in her order, according to the Miami Herald. "Given that there were three to four incidents over a five-year period, it certainly was not pervasive."
Cooke added that the conflicts between Smart and her co-workers resulted because of "personality conflicts" or "co-workers' perception of her being difficult to work with."
Despite vacating Smart's $700,000 award, Cooke did deliver a scathing rebuke of the city's fire department. "This is no way to run a railroad," the judge added.
Smart, who was hired in 2005 and has continued to work as a firefighter during legal proceedings, was angry at the reversal. She points out to New Times that Cook took her side when granting summary judgment last year.
"How can a judge rule in my favor, basically saying that yes, these things happened to me, and now she is going back on her word?" Smart asks. She believes that the City of Miami Beach heaped pressure on the judge. "It looked like she just wanted to wash her hands of this."
Smart is one of several firefighters to sue the city in recent years. In 2005, Jim Llewellyn filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Miami Beach when he was fired following his complaints.
Last year, African-American fire recruit Brian Gentles filed a discrimination complaint against the city after he was allegedly tea-bagged and racially abused by another recruit.
And Ed Gonzalez, a fire captain who says he was forced out last year after reporting corruption and abuses of authority, is considering litigation.
Unlike Gonzalez, however, Smart is still working as a firefighter. She says Cook's u-turn will make things much worse for her.
"You have no idea what I'm going to have to go through in my job now," she says. "Do you think that anybody is going to want to work with me now? People are going to think that I'm a liar."