Four firefighters have filed sexual harassment charges against the San Diego fire department after they were taunted while driving a fire engine in a gay Pride parade last month.
The men claim their battalion chief ordered them to ride in the July 21st parade through San Diego’s Hillcrest neighbourhood, according to their attorney, Stephen Stirling.
Fire Captain John Ghiotto, Engineer Jason Hewett and firefighters Chad Allison and Alex Kane said they had objected to driving a city firetruck in the parade while on duty, but did so to avoid disciplinary action.
In statements filed with the state, the men said that along the parade route, they were subjected to offensive and lewd comments such as “you can put out my fire,” and saw men blowing kisses at them.
Then, they said, they had to endure protesters who yelled at them that homosexuality was a sin, according to San Diego newspaper, the Union Tribune.
“I was forced into a situation that would compromise what I hold true and what I believe in,” engineer Jason Hewitt said in a statement, according to 10news.com.
The four contend the department failed to protect them from sexual harassment and did not immediately act to correct the situation, Stirling said.
Last week their lawyers sent a letter to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing seeking right-to-sue notices.
The Thomas More Law Centre, a conservative Christian legal organisation based in Michigan, is helping represent the plaintiffs.
Fire department spokesman Maurice Luque said the four men were called in after another crew that had volunteered to participate in the parade cancelled at the last minute because one firefighter had a family emergency, according to 10news.com.
Luque said the agency’s engines had participated in San Diego’s LGBT Pride Festival for the past 15 years and never had any sexual harassment complaints.
“We have a responsibility and we take it seriously to participate in these parades,” he said, according to 10news.com.
Fire Chief Tracy Jarman issued a statement yesterday saying she apologised to the men and plans to have the city’s Equal Employment Investigative Office look into their complaints.
In August 2006 nine firemen from Strathclyde Fire Service in Scotland were ordered to undergo an intensive course in diversity training as a punishment for refusing to carry out their jobs at the gay Pride Scotia.
One of the officers was demoted from watch manager to crew manager, with a £5,000 pay cut.