1st trial ended with jury unable to reach a verdict; city will appeal verdict in 2nd trial
SAN DIEGO — A jury determined Tuesday, Feb. 17 that four San Diego firefighters were sexually harassed for being ordered to participate in a gay Pride parade and awarded them combined damages of $34,300.
The firefighters — Alex Kane, Chad Allison, Capt. John Ghiotto and Capt. Jason Hewitt — claimed they were subjected to sexually charged conduct and lewd comments while riding a fire engine in the July 2007 parade, which drew about 150,000 spectators.
The firefighters’ attorney, Charles LiMandri, said during his closing argument that his clients were targets of vulgar gestures and catcalls while being forced to watch barely clothed men and women simulate sex acts and touch themselves and one another.
"The Fire Department knew what goes on there," LiMandri told the jury.
This was the second trial on the firefighters’ claims. In October, jurors were unable to reach a verdict.
LiMandri requested up to $1 million for each client at the first trial. He didn’t propose specific damages at this trial.
A crew that had volunteered to ride a fire engine pulled out shortly before the parade because the captain’s mother died. LiMandri told the jury that department supervisors didn’t try to find other volunteers, but gave the assignment to the crew in the city’s Hillcrest area, home to a large gay population where the parade is held.
The firefighters’ attorney argued that his clients objected but weren’t taken seriously. The city said the firefighters expressed discomfort but didn’t complain of sexual harassment at the time.
Deputy City Attorney Don Shanahan said the firefighters weren’t satisfied after Chief Tracy Jarman apologized and promised to change the department’s policy and use only volunteers in the parade.
"The department bent over backwards," Shanahan told jurors.
The city will appeal the verdict and oppose any motions to pay the firefighters’ legal fees, Shanahan said.