A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a gay firefighter against the city of Chicago alleging he was discriminated against and sexually harassed by his supervisor at work.
James Mundo, a gay man, was hired by the Chicago Fire Department as a firefighter in August 2006. After being hired, he realized he did not fit in with the hyper-masculine atmosphere inside the firehouse, describing it as a pervasive “anti-gay” environment.
According to Mundo’s lawsuit, there was a “heterosexual mentality” among his fellow firefighters in the firehouse, and when he didn’t conform to stereotypical gender norms, he experienced discrimination and harassment and subjected to personal pranks — just like other Chicago Fire Department employees who fail to meet those expectations.
“[G]ay firefighters like Mundo still must hide the fact that they are gay, gender nonconforming or even legally married to a same sex partner,” his lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges.
“For example, male firefighters, including Mundo, are expected ‘fit in,’ laugh at ‘fag’ jokes and act like they want to have sex with every short skirted female walking her dog near a firehouse on a sultry summer evening. A failure to go along with this standard male heterosexual orientation results in becoming ostracized, criticized, degraded, discriminated against and humiliated.”
In January 2008, Mundo transferred to the department’s internal affairs division, where he worked for five years before transferring to the labor relations division, where he worked for more than five additional years before going on a medical leave of absence in 2018.
At the labor relations division, Mundo worked under supervisor Janice Hogan, a heterosexual woman. But he claims Hogan expected all male employees to conform to her vision of a heterosexual, masculine firefighter.
Despite knowing Mundo was gay and married to another man, Hogan decided he needed to be “straightened out” to match her preconceived notions of masculinity, as well as her personal sexual desires. As a result, Hogan subjected Mundo to dozens of acts of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Mundo claims that Hogan repeatedly struck Mundo on the head over 20 times to intimidate him, partially undressed in front of him, asked him if his husband would mind if she and Mundo had sex, referred to other firefighters using the term “faggot” in front of Mundo, exposed her breasts to him, and asked him to masturbate in front of her. She also allegedly told him she wanted to be the first woman to have sex with him, shared tales of her past sexual liaisons or sexual fantasies, and asked if she could give him oral sex.
When Mundo complained about Hogan’s behavior and said he was offended, she reportedly told him that he was her “gay plaything” and with whom she “could do whatever she wanted to without retribution.” Hogan threatened to send Mundo “back in the field,” where he could likely be subjected to the type of discrimination and harassment he had experienced when he was first fired.
As a result, Mundo became anxious, suffering from anxiety, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression, ultimately taking medical leave starting in October 2018. He then sued the city, alleging he was sexually discriminated against, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Illinois Gender Violence Act, and the Equal Protection Clause. The city asked the court to dismiss the case.
Last month, the court dismissed the claims brought under the Illinois Gender Violence Act, finding that a municipality is not a “person” and thus can’t be sued under it, reports HRMorning.
The court also found that there is no formal policy either allowing or enabling the harassment he suffered — CFD has policies against sexual harassment — or proving that the type of harassment and discrimination that Mundo experienced is widespread. But the court did allow Mundo’s equal protection and sex discrimination counts to go forward and Mundo’s overall lawsuit to continue.
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