Using “smoke and mirrors,” a former Sacramento firefighter and her lawyer have manipulated a series of incidents to present an illusion of a hostile and sexist work environment, a city attorney told a jury Tuesday.
“How did all these events happen? I don’t know. Were they offensive? Yes. Were they juvenile? Yes. Is there legal liability of the city? No,” Senior Deputy City Attorney Matthew D. Ruyak said in closing arguments of a seven-week trial in Sacramento Superior Court.
The jury begins deliberations this morning in Carol Irving’s lawsuit, which Ruyak said could cost the city $7.5 million in damages.
Irving’s lawyer, Wendy York, told jurors in her final remarks that a culture of sexism in the Fire Department created such a hostile work environment that the 39-year-old firefighter was left emotionally and physically unable to work after eight years of fighting fires.
The alleged gender discrimination was not only rampant, it was tolerated by officials of the Fire Department and the city, York argued.
“Think FEMA and Hurricane Katrina. That’s the response to this,” York said Monday of the city’s slow and sloppy response to Irving’s complaints.
Irving, who is suing the Fire Department for gender discrimination, retaliation and defamation, suffers from “post-traumatic stress disorder” that kept her from returning to work in April 2003, four of her doctors testified.
Testimony showed that in 2002, while Irving was an instructor at the firefighting academy, Capt. Timothy Adams was disciplined for describing Irving as a “cancer” in the department.
Later her name was mysteriously crossed off a transfer list to one of the most popular firehouses, Station 6, witnesses testified. After arriving at Station 6 in Oak Park, paint was smeared on her firefighting suit, a mousetrap was stuffed in her boot and an obscene word was scribbled on her ax, York said.
Another firefighter, Eric Guida, was also disciplined for stepping in front of Irving one day in Station 6 to block her path, testimony showed. Guida, who was one of the named defendants in the trial, has settled a personal suit with Irving.
York said a photograph stuffed in her locker of a doll with its mouth taped and a gun pointed at its head was intended to intimidate and frighten her client.
York said it took a year and a half before officials from the department and the city began an investigation into the incidents. Later she said city officials violated their own confidentiality rules about the investigation.
“Someone leaked to the media the investigation to be published to the whole world,” York said.
Ruyak didn’t dispute that some of the incidents at the academy and Station 6 took place, but he said “there’s no evidence” that they had anything to do with gender discrimination.
There were “personality conflicts” at Station 6 and “her ideas weren’t being listened to” at the academy, Ruyak said.
“She’s trying to build bookends,” the city attorney said, accusing York of stringing bits of fact with Irving’s “fictionalizations.” There were “suspicious circumstances” behind the ax incident, he told jurors.
Ruyak argued that Irving’s actions belie her claims that she took a stand against sexism. He said she even participated willingly in a prank similar to what she is complaining about in her suit.
In this incident, Ruyak said Irving and another female firefighter were photographed hugging a large inflatable penis.
“She wasn’t forced to pose for the photo,” Ruyak told the jury.
Two other female firefighters, who worked at Station 6 and testified for the city, said they have not been discriminated against because of their gender.
“A lot was done,” Ruyak said of the investigation of the incidents. “The city did respond. Was it perfect? No. The world is not perfect.”
“Did the city retaliate against her? No. It sought to accommodate her,” Ruyak said of multiple offers to transfer Irving to other stations.
York said the city’s offers to transfer Irving were not acceptable because they were either inferior or not workable.
“She would have to work with people she didn’t feel safe with,” York said of her client.