Maliniak vs. City of Tucson
Michelle Maliniak is a 22 year veteran of the fire service.
She began her career as the first female firefighter in her hometown of Sierra Vista, Arizona in 1989. She then joined the City of Tucson Fire Department in 1990. The City of Tucson hired 12 women as the result of a class action lawsuit against the Tucson Fire Department for gender discrimination.
During Michelle's 22 years as a firefighter she experienced frequent hostility and harassment.
Some examples include:
Physical assault from a Captain who forcefully held her inside of a burning trailer. He did not allow her to wear her air pack and she suffered respiratory and eye injuries as a result. No disciplinary action was taken, and he was eventually promoted to Assistant Chief.
Verbal abuse and degradation from other firefighters and supervisors as she was told she was a "stupid woman", a "bitch", and a "troublemaker". She was the subject of emails that stated she should be "hunted with pitbulls" and that she was a "dreaded beast." Her important safety gear and tags were tampered with and stolen. Trash was placed in her boots. One firefighter, who is now a Chief, placed rocks in the hubcaps of the ambulance that Michelle was driving and caused a delayed response to a citizen who was having a heart attack.
Michelle and other women were held to a double standard. Women were closely watched by supervisors and other firefighters of lower rank and seniority. Women were fired or disciplined in situations where the men were not. Firefighters who were assigned to clean the bathrooms would clean the men's restroom but refuse to clean the women's restroom. Women were still expected to clean the bathrooms and cook even after they were promoted. The men were not. Many men openly stated that "Women will have to do twice the work of the men", and that firefighting was "a man's job." Women were not allowed to form a support group and were threatened with ostracism if they joined one. Men and women were told not to associate with Michelle or other women who were trying to get help and support.
Women were not allowed to have personal boundaries or private women's facilities. Many men view the fire department as a "fraternity" and "brotherhood", and see the stations as their "home". They frequented the women's facilities leaving them filthy with feces, urinating in the sink, and often walking in on Michelle and other women while they were undressing or in the shower. Some men, including two Captains, were caught in a lie about abuse of the women's bathroom. Instead of reporting these men, another Captain charged Michelle with insubordination for stating the fact that the Captains had lied. Some men felt entitled to use the women's bathroom and would make women wait to use the women's bathroom or shower while they were using it. When Michelle spoke out, a degrading sign appeared on the women's bathroom door stating "NO MEN for me". Another sign stating F@#* YOU USE REVERSE B@#$%^ was later placed behind the fire truck she drove.
Michelle had promoted in rank to Paramedic and Engineer but was denied the same pay as the men who had the same dual certification. She was the only female driver/Engineer for over 7 years. Her driving skills and abilities as a Engineer were constantly questioned and investigated, although she had a perfect safety record.
Michelle and other female firefighters were being put in dangerous situations as some of the men would not work together with them as a team at fires, medical scenes, or drills. Men that were supportive were bullied and distanced themselves from Michelle. Some people even began to engage in and lead the harassment to fit in, including the only female Battalion Chief at the time. New firefighters were being greeted at the stations by firemen wearing little to no clothing and fake phalluses. One new firefighter was tied up with duct tape and "waterboarded" in the shower.
There are over 600 Tucson Firefighters, approximately only 30 are women, less than 6 firefighters are African American, there are no openly gay men. The last openly gay man was ostracized and forced to eat off of separate plates. A firefighter/paramedic beat a gay man nearly to death and was soon after promoted to Captain. He was the Chief's son in-law. Most of the people who had harassed and discriminated against women and minorities were now in the rank of Chief. Women were steadily leaving the department or being fired. The department rarely hired any more women, and when they did there was 1 per class of 30 to 40 men.
Michelle went to her supervisors and to the Chief of the department multiple times with concerns for herself and the other women and men. She was told her concerns were "petty", that the behavior was just "pranks", and no action was taken.
The City of Tucson Equal Employment Opportunity office dismissed all complaints. Michelle was told by the City of Tucson EEO that no action would occur because "You can't teach people who do not want to learn."
Michelle had been a member of the International Association of Firefighters Union and the local IAFF 479 Tucson Union for 20 years. The union did nothing to help Michelle, and collected money to give $5,000 to the Battalion Chief who was disciplined for the threatening emails towards Michelle.
The Tucson Women's Commission and Tucson GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bi-sexual Transgender) commission were informed but the Tucson Fire Department, Tucson City Council, City of Tucson EEO and City Attorneys Office ignored their interventions.
On December 17th, 2005 Michelle filed a federal EEO complaint and left the job on unpaid medical leave. In 2006 she was granted the right to sue. The City of Tucson hired Tucson Mayor John Rothschild's law firm and attempted to have the case dismissed, but Judge John Roll ruled that the case should be determined by a jury. Judge Roll died on January 8th, 2011 in a mass shooting during congress woman Gabby Giffords event in Tucson. He saved congressman Ron Barber's life by sacrificing his own.
When Michelle returned to work, the men continued to use the women's facilities, refused to clean them, and they walked in while Michelle was using the bathroom. One engineer stated women should not be on the job, they were not as qualified as the men, and it was all he could do "not to jump on top of the women at the station while they were sleeping." While on a call at the federal prison Michelle and two other firefighters expressed concerns for their safety as two inmates, one with a pen, were not restrained or confined during treatment. Michelle was threatened to be written up for insubordination by her Captain, and told he would not address any of her safety concerns including the concerns about the women's bathroom. On June 6th, 2011 Michelle left the job after informing fire department Human Resources officer and the city EEO that she felt unsafe at her station and on calls with her Captain. Two months later there was a riot at the federal prison. A female corrections officer was raped and four other officers were assaulted.
On November 5th , 2012 Michelle's case went to trial with Judge A. Wallace Tashima presiding. On November 13th, 2012 a federal jury of eight citizens unanimously awarded Michelle $35,000 in lost pay and additionally the attorney's fees for sexual harassment. On November 21st, 2012 Judge Tashima dismissed the jury's decision and ruled for the City of Tucson.
Michelle is now appealing her case to the 9th Circuit Court. Michelle's attorney has personally donated over $158,000 of professional time to her case. Michelle's current legal costs are over $60,000 and the appeals case is estimated to cost an additional $20,000. Please support her as she appeals to find justice and hold the City of Tucson and Tucson Fire Department accountable for discrimination and harassment.
Please see the donation page for more information about how you can join our team and show support. Please sign our petition to ask Mayor Rothschild to stop harassment on Change.org. Please see the other cases for more information on the severity, frequency, and tax payer expense of harassment and abuse of women in the fire service, law enforcement, and military.