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August 18, 10

NEWS / Division on Civil Rights Announces Settlement in Case of Fire Company Accused of Discriminating Agai

TRENTON – The Division on Civil Rights announced today that a South Jersey fire company has paid a female firefighter $15,000 and agreed to have its members undergo sexual harassment training to resolve allegations the woman suffered gender-based discrimination, and was later targeted for retaliation for reporting it.

Under terms of the agreement Clementon Fire and Rescue of Clementon, Camden County, paid firefighter Merrissa V. Garretson $15,000 last month. The fire company also agreed to give Garretson a positive letter of employment reference whenever contacted by a prospective employer. Garretson resigned from Clementon Fire and Rescue in April 2010. As part of the settlement with Garretson, the fire company made no admission of liability.

“This is a fair settlement that resolves troubling allegations of discrimination against a young woman in a male-dominated work environment,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Chinh Q. Le. “No employee should be treated like a second-class citizen because of his or her gender, and no worker should suffer reprisals for having reported such treatment.”

At age 13, Merrissa Garretson began her employment with Clementon Fire and Rescue in May 2003 as an Explorer. She was promoted to Junior Firefighter in July 2006, and promoted again to Probationary Firefighter in July 2008. In December 2008, Garretson was promoted to the position of Firefighter. At all times, she was a volunteer employee and was not paid by the fire company.

According to her formal Complaint, Garretson approached the fire company’s deputy chief, Randall Freiling, in March 2009 to report repeated, discriminatory remarks by a male firefighter that were demeaning to women generally, and derogatory toward Garretson in particular. Garretson alleged that she later approached Clementon Borough Administrator Jenai L. Johnson, in July 2009, with the same information.

In the aftermath of those two conversations, Garretson received a letter from Administrator Johnson – in August 2009 -- advising that a thorough investigation had been conducted, and that corrective action had been taken.

However, Garretson charged in her Complaint, she saw no evidence of a thorough investigation or corrective action.

To the contrary, Garretson alleged, she was subjected after reporting her concerns to such actions as being “bumped” from fire truck assignments in favor of less qualified, less experienced junior firefighters, and having her gear removed from her locker. Garretson filed her formal Complaint with the Division on Civil Rights in November 2009.

Director Le thanked Division Investigator Maurice Sykes and John Beauchamp, Regional Supervisor in the Division’s Camden Office, for their work on the Garretson matter.




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