When Anthony Almeida's fellow firefighters learned that he had been sexually abused by a priest as a child, some apparently thought that was hilarious. It certainly proved great fodder for lewd jokes. But there's little to laugh at now -- as the Los Angeles City Fire Department recently agreed to pay Almeida nearly $500,000 in damages, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Almeida was a firefighter/engineer with the department for 26 years. He claims that his co-workers began tormenting him in 2006, when they discovered that he had filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Church because of the sexual abuse he had suffered as a child. He says that he reported the harassment to managers, but nothing was done. So in 2007, he filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging sex and religious discrimination.
He also hired a private attorney, Vince Finaldi, who has participated in lawsuits that have won over $1 billion for victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.
The EEOC investigated, and found that there was reasonable cause that the department had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: It was likely that Almeida was not only harassed, but the department also appeared to have disciplined him in retaliation for his involvement in another EEOC lawsuit.
In the settlement, the department agreed to award Almeida $494,150 in damages and provide anti-harassment training to the 3,500 uniformed staff in L.A., impacting all 103 fire stations in the city.
"Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyers have seen many examples of Los Angeles-area governmental agencies that have struggled with employees and supervisors who just don't understand how to comply with sexual harassment laws," wrote Orange County lawyer Okorie Okorocha after the case was settled. Some people just don't get, he claims, that "making lewd comments" is not only wrong, "but also unlawful."
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