NBC 10 I-Team Exclusive: Former firefighter speaks out about harassment
Former Fire Lt. Lori Franchina is speaking out exclusively to the NBC 10 I-Team, saying some of the problems that led to her six-year court battle against the City of Providence still exist within the Fire Department.
"I was proud and very excited to be able to keep my fight going,” Franchina said. "You go back and you think that the process has been so painful, and grueling."
She filed a civil lawsuit alleging discrimination and harassment in 2012, and was awarded more than $700,000 by a jury in federal court in April 2016. But Franchina still hasn’t received any of that award because the City of Providence appealed the case, dragging the process out by another two years.
Meanwhile, Franchia said she spent her life savings as the court battle dragged on, surviving on a pension from the city that totals about $22,000 after taxes.
"I didn't cash in at all,” she said.
Then, on January 25, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the earlier award and the city said it would not appeal the case any further, signaling victory for Franchina.
In the First Circuit’s written opinion, Judge Rogeriee Thompson had harsh words for the City, saying the jury’s award was upheld because “…we decline to put out flames of the [Fire] Department’s own making.”
"For me, it was really important to prove that I was telling the truth. These things were happening on a daily basis,” Franchina said.
Jurors in the 2016 trial agreed that the harassment described was happening. That included years of insults in the firehouse, including words NBC 10 can’t repeat on television. Some firefighters refused to follow Franchina’s orders, even during life or death medical calls.
One male firefighter told Franchina that, “I’ll never take a f****** order from you,” according to court documents.
The harassment escalated. According to court documents, another male firefighter spit at Franchina during a 2009 Christmas party at the Union Hall in Providence, and used his body to block her from leaving the building.
A Superior Court judge awarded Franchina a lifetime restraining order against the man, but he remains on the job today.
"He was never disciplined and will receive a full pension,” Franchina said.
Franchina reported what was happening to her superiors multiple times, both verbally and in writing.
"It would have been easier for the city to discipline as it went, than to let this culminate into a major, major problem. A systemic problem that still exists to this day,” she said.
The incidents jurors heard about during the 2016 civil trial dated back to 2006 -- years before others began speaking out about sexual harassment and assault on social media.
After seeing the #MeToo movement gain momentum in recent months, Franchina said she hopes other women can pursue careers in public safety without fear of harassment or discrimination.
"In the end, after 12 years, I'm empowered,” she said.
A spokesman told NBC 10 that despite the Court of Appeals’ ruling, the city doesn’t plan to pay Franchina the $700,000 jury award until the issue of attorney’s fees is resolved in court.